Sunshine Can Sabotage Cadillac's Super Cruise; GM Reportedly Working On Fix

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Despite receiving high praise as one of the most advanced driving aids on the market, Cadillac’s Super Cruise isn’t perfect. Automotive writers frequently debate whether it’s superior to Tesla’s Autopilot, without reaching a consensus. Most experiences have shown Tesla to have the more hassle-free interface with Cadillac providing something that errs on the side of caution. Similarly capable, Super Cruise is more persnickety about where and when can use the system — not a terrible impulse, especially considering how all modern driving aids can be flummoxed by a little salt and snow.

However, one gripe we’ve repeatedly heard about Super Cruise was that the system sometimes didn’t make it clear why it isn’t operating. General Motors has identified the problem and says it plans to implement a fix, but it might only come with the next generation of the company’s semi-autonomous hardware.

While GM could tweak the software, it wouldn’t alleviate the problem. According to Automotive News, the core issue involves the infrared camera that’s mounted atop the steering wheel column and used for monitoring the driver (something Tesla’s system doesn’t have). The device tracks driver involvement and can deactivate Super Cruise whenever the on-board computer feels the pilot is getting too complacent. Apparently, direct sunlight can effectively “blind” the camera — making it impossible to identify what the operator is doing. Without that information, the car is forced to shut down the system.

“Just as the sun makes it hard for you to see what’s ahead of you, it does the same thing for a camera,” Sam Abuelsamid, an engineer and Navigant Research analyst, explained to the outlet. “It is a challenge.”

General Motors actually updated Super Cruise last year to help the camera cope with sunlight, but couldn’t quite manage to solve the issue entirely. That might make it sound like the automaker dropped the ball, but the truth of the matter is GM won’t be the only manufacturer that’ll have to cope with this. As true autonomous systems edge ever closer to reality, advanced cruise control setups will have to contend with the environments in which they’re placed. Sensors can become damaged and cameras can be blinded by sunlight, filth, or fog. There’s no way around it, especially if manufacturers want to engineer truly safe cars.

“You need to have multiple different types to make a really reliable system,” explained Abuelsamid. “These systems are progressing. They’re getting better. Increasingly, the industry is moving toward using driver-monitoring systems like Cadillac has done.”

From Automotive News:

Fixes for Super Cruise’s sunlight problem will be part of “significant changes” coming in the hardware for the next-generation system, said Daryl Wilson, GM lead automated-driving engineer.

Wilson declined to comment on timing or details of that system, but GM would likely want to launch the system as it begins rolling out Super Cruise across its lineup beginning in 2020.

“We are learning from this, and we’re going to make that availability much more robust in those situations,” Wilson said.

Abuelsamid thinks GM will have to change the camera’s location or implement some sort of diffuser that allows the camera to see when subjected to an overabundance of sunlight. “That’s not something they’re going to be able to fix with software,” he said. “That’s a flaw in the physical design.”

It’s better to deal with these teething issues while Super Cruise is limited to the CT6 and Cadillac knows it. The company has been very careful to roll out the system gradually, hoping to avoid some of the negative publicity that touched Tesla after a handful of Autopilot-related crashes.

[Images: General Motors]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • ToolGuy ToolGuy on Apr 01, 2019

    "Cadillac for sale. One owner. Never driven in sunlight."

  • Saturnotaku Saturnotaku on Apr 02, 2019

    Sunlight can disrupt any camera-based system. I was driving a Subaru Outback (maybe a Legacy) with the first-gen EyeSight system. One sunny morning on an eastbound commute, the forward collision warning lights and buzzer came on completely unprovoked. The car in front was at least 4-5 lengths ahead. I'm guessing the glare of the sun hit the windshield and camera sensor at just the right angle to blind it and go into some sort of panic mode.

  • Craiger I love the people who call Musk an imbecile. As if they could even get an interview for a job at one of his companies.
  • Lou_BC I'm waiting for Tesla to make a pickup!
  • Lou_BC Autograph? Turn Up the Radio?
  • Oberkanone Were these available with diesel?At $3700 this Volvo presents nicer than other vehicles I see at this asking price.
  • V16 Lobbyists, not a Senator from Missouri are the real power brokers in Washington.Money, the mother's milk of politics dictate every outcome.
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