Cadillac Super Cruise, the luxury automaker's hands-off driver assistance system, will by the end of the year work on more than 200,000 miles of highway in the U.S. and Canada, 35% more territory than it covered when it launched in 2017. The bulk of the new miles come from divided highways—the sort of road where Tesla's Autopilot system has suffered two high-profile deadly crashes, and where Cadillac's engineers are confident their system can do better.
To make the expansion possible, Cadillac ramped up its cartography. Unlike Autopilot and similarly pseudo-self-driving systems offered by the likes of Nissan, Super Cruise strictly limits where the driver can use it. As it developed the system, Cadillac hired a company called Ushr to drive every mile of limited-access highway in the U.S. and Canada, using a lidar laser scanner to record all the lane lines, tollbooths, curves, merges, splits, and other features. It trimmed away some useless lidar data (like roadside trees), and compressed what was left until it fit easily on a car's computer. The resulting map helps the car anticipate things like sharp turns, but it has a more important function.
By matching the car's location (using GPS) to the map, Cadillac disables the system where it's not confident that the system can handle the driving. Maybe the car's lane is ending, or it's approaching a tollbooth, or reaching the point where the five lanes of the Bay Bridge split into the various highways of Berkeley and Oakland—anything that demands more than staying between the lane lines and a safe distance from the car up ahead. About one-third of a mile before the cutoff point, lights in the steering wheel go from green to red, the driver's seat buzzes, and the dashboard reads "Super Cruise disengaging, take back control."
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