If I had the disposable income to buy a semi-autonomous Cadillac CT6, I’d also be inclined to privately sue, for crimes against scenery, the person or persons who drew the routes for the Trans-Canada Highway.
If you’ve driven this humongous country along its main artery, it can be frustrating to be so close and yet so far from the Thousand Islands or from Lake Superior or to get the most distant glimpse of the capital of Quebec to which it connects.
But the drive east from Quebec City on the Trans-Canada’s Highway 20 — in a car that effectively drives itself — stymies all attempts to hide natural beauty. Around Kamouraska, rocky hills abound, and the St. Lawrence River begins its transition into an ocean. Forty-five kilometres on, at Rivière-du-Loup, you can book a whale-watching cruise.
It is one of the most beautiful transformations of the world outside your windshield — even with projected images on said windshield reminding me of the speed limit and other bits of information usually confined to my dashboard.
The event was the Canadian press launch of the Cadillac CT6 with Super Cruise control. A few years short of the completely self-driving cars you keep reading about, Super Cruise is a reminder of just how independent our cars are becoming from human involvement.
In short, once you’re on a qualified highway with marked lanes and defined on-ramps and off-ramps, you can activate Super Cruise, and the car turns with the road, maintains whatever speed you set and keeps a reasonable distance from cars ahead. You just sit there, your hands and feet doing nothing until the next lane change (which is still in human hands).
And as I discovered, when some idiot cuts you off, it keeps a cooler head than I would (if two hard drives in the trunk can be said to have a head). At one point in the 160-kilometre drive, an 18-wheeler driver obliviously switched lanes in front of me, requiring my car to brake. My reaction would have been to hit the brake hard and lean on the horn. The Super Cruise slowed down so smoothly I could have had a full coffee with no lid and not spilled a drop. “Anything you can do, Super Cruise can do better,” says Cadillac Canada product manager Harry Ng, my passenger for the launch, adopting a proud parent tone (although he tends to refer to Super Cruise as a “spouse” — more on that in a bit).
“I mean, if a deer jumps in front of you at 10 feet, it is physically impossible to avoid it. Super Cruise still has to work within the laws of physics. But reasonably, a threat that comes in will be picked up by long-range radar or one of the four short-range radars.”
For all this, Super Cruise is a Level 2 semi-autonomous technology, meaning it requires your attention, even if you’re not actually doing anything. It watches your face and alerts you if your attention diverts for more than a few seconds by flashing a green light on the steering wheel. A few seconds more, and the light turns red and the car coasts. Continue to ignore Super Cruise, and you get a voice prompt, after which you are assumed to be incapacitated, the car slows down with hazard lights flashing and then stops. if you remain unresponsive, OnStar, the vehicle safety system, is alerted.
Which is what we mean by Level 2 semi-autonomy. Level 3, as Ng puts it, would be to play cards with someone in the front seat. Level 4 would be playing cards in the back. “You work with Super Cruise as partners,” he says. “Like a spouse, a boyfriend, a girlfriend, communication is very important. When things are all good, you get the green light. If you’re not paying attention to your spouse, it flashes green and then red.”