Tesla’s Autopilot technology is one of the most-hyped and best-known suites of electronic driving aids, but it’s not the only (or the best) system of its kind on the market. Cadillac’s Super Cruise isn’t as well known, yet it’s outstandingly safe and, in some ways, smarter than Autopilot. Join us for a look at how these rivaling systems work, the ways they’re similar, and the areas where they differ.
What is Super Cruise?
Cadillac took an exceptionally smart approach to developing partially automated technology when it began working on Super Cruise in the 2010s. Its system is based on the premise that, while the car can learn about its surroundings as it goes, teaching it what it’s about to encounter ahead of time is safer. The company started putting together shockingly accurate maps of major highways in the United States and loading the data into Super Cruise’s brain. As of writing, there are over 200,000 miles of mapped highways programmed into the Super Cruise computer.
On these roads, Super Cruise-equipped cars know where there’s a bend and where there’s a hill, among other important data points. Of course, there is no way to predict where there’s going to be a semi-truck, so Super Cruise also relies on cameras, radar, and lidar mapping technology to analyze the world around it and react appropriately.
When engaged, Super Cruise lets the driver take both hands off the steering wheel as it accelerates, brakes, and steers, though the technology can only be turned on when the car is traveling on a compatible highway. It’s the first and, as of 2020, only true hands-off system available in the United States, though it absolutely does not turn a Cadillac into an autonomous car. The driver still needs to pay close attention to the road ahead. The odds of fooling the system are low, because there’s a small driver-facing camera mounted on the steering column that detects when a motorist isn’t paying attention and issues a series of audible and visual warnings. The system turns itself off and gradually brings the car to a stop in its lane after three consecutive alerts.
Cadillac has been surprisingly quiet about Super Cruise, but the technology has won awards from major publications like Autoblog and Popular Science. It’s remarkably safe, too. In February 2020, Cadillac president Steve Carlisle said his team isn’t aware of any accidents that have occurred while using Super Cruise. Users have put 5.2 million miles on the system since it reached showrooms in the CT6, Cadillac’s former flagship sedan, in 2017.
Which cars are available with it?
Cadillac has been slow to roll out Super Cruise across its range, but it plans to make up for lost time in the early 2020s. The feature was inaugurated by the CT6, and it’s optionally available on the 2021 CT4, the 2021 CT5, as well as the 2021 Escalade (pictured). The three aforementioned models will reach showrooms by the end of 2020. Looking ahead, at least 22 vehicles made by General Motors-owned automakers will receive Super Cruise by 2023, though it might receive a different name when it’s programmed into, say, a Chevrolet or a Buick.
What is Autopilot?
Don’t let the name Autopilot fool you: None of the cars in Tesla’s current range are capable of driving themselves. Instead, Autopilot is a partially automated system that is regularly improved via over-the-air software updates. It relies on eight surround-view cameras that give the car 360-degree visibility for up to 820 feet, 12 ultrasonic sensors, and a forward-facing radar. Tesla has regularly stressed that, unlike its rivals, it doesn’t believe in lidar technology.
The data gathered by Autopilot’s hardware allows the car to steer, accelerate, and brake automatically within its lane, though the company warns the system requires active driver supervision. In other words, even if your Model S can steer itself around a bend, you shouldn’t be watching a movie while you cruise down I-80 at 75 mph. There are many circumstances Autopilot can’t handle on its own, and the driver could be asked to take over without notice.
Tesla also offers a more comprehensive suite of partially automated technology confusingly named Full Self-Driving Capability. We can’t stress this enough: It does not turn a Tesla into a self-driving car. Will it one day? Maybe. Hopefully, considering it’s a very expensive option. But, as of 2020, your new Tesla will be human-driven even if it’s equipped with Full Self-Driving. With that disclaimer out of the way, the suite adds Navigate on Autopilot (which suggests lane changes and tackles on- and off-ramps on its own), Smart Summon (which lets users move their car in and out of a parking spot), plus Traffic and Stop Sign Control (which recognizes and obeys traffic lights as well as stop signs). Note the latter feature is still in beta mode, so users are also the technology’s guinea pigs.
Owners have driven approximately 3 billion miles using Autopilot, according to Tesla. That’s far more than Cadillac owners have put on Super Cruise, but the system has been at the center of many high-profile (and sometimes deadly) crashes. Several government agencies (including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) have investigated its role in accidents, too. Its record is far from spotless.
Which cars are available with it?
Tesla makes Autopilot technology available across its entire range. It’s standard on the Model S, the Model X, the Model 3 (pictured), and the Model Y, and it will also be offered on the Cybertruck and the second-generation Roadster. It remains an independent company, and it’s not the sharing type, so there’s not a single non-Tesla-designed car offered with Autopilot. The company plans to keep its technology in-house in the foreseeable future.
Which one is more advanced?
The answer to this question largely depends on who you ask, and how you define the term “advanced.” What’s certain is that Cadillac’s system was designed specifically for hands-off operation, while Tesla’s wasn’t.
“With an attentive driver, and under the proper conditions, Super Cruise can be equipped to permit hands-free operation of the vehicle,” according to Cadillac. Meanwhile, Tesla’s fine print claims “Autopilot is a hands-on driver assistance system that is intended to be used only with a fully attentive driver.”
Simply put, you can take your hands off the steering wheel in a Cadillac (though you can’t sleep, read, or hop in the back seat) but you need to keep both hands on it in a Tesla. Of course, the countless videos of motorists sleeping, eating, reading, putting on makeup, and crashing on Autopilot suggest these guidelines aren’t always followed.
With that said, Autopilot boasts a more robust set of features than Super Cruise. There’s no Cadillac-branded equivalent to Smart Summon, and the system can’t automatically take an off-ramp (at least not yet). And, Autopilot can be engaged on more roads than Super Cruise because it’s not map-dependent. It’s fair to say Super Cruise is more advanced, while Autopilot is more comprehensive. And both are extremely innovative technologies.