SAN MATEO, Calif. -- Cadillac President Johan de Nysschen says the brand's slow-and-steady approach to semiautonomous technology allowed it to win the race to hands-free driving.
Speaking at a conference here Wednesday, de Nysschen said the brand used "rigorously" tested software, along with lidar maps of U.S. freeways and facial tracking technology, enabling it to stake claim as the first to guarantee hands-free driving capability.
"We believe that taking a measured approach is not only prudent and responsible but it can actually accelerate consumer acceptance," de Nysschen said, adding that "Tesla has been eager to flip the switch" on its semiautonomous Autopilot system.
"We believe that beta testing and validation belongs in a controlled environment supervised by expert engineers, and not in the hands of our customers," de Nysschen said.
In October 2016, Tesla said it would equip all of its vehicles with the hardware necessary for full self-driving from then on, slowly rolling out enhanced features of its second-generation Autopilot system over the following months. The automaker said it uses millions of miles of real-world data gathered from onboard sensors to test and validate its technology before installing it in customer vehicles via over-the-air updates.
De Nysschen said Super Cruise is part of General Motors' parallel approach to self-driving technology -- introducing the choice of autonomous driving in individually driven luxury vehicles while providing full driverless technology at mass scale with a robotaxi service slated to launch next year.
De Nysschen said Cadillac tested Super Cruise over years of development using both simulation and on-road testing on its proving grounds. He added there are remaining challenges to advancing the technology, including handling inclement weather and integrating lidar sensors into the system.
Super Cruise enables hands-free driving by tracking facial expressions to detect whether a driver is distracted, rather than requiring drivers to keep their hands on the wheel to ensure they're paying attention. Drivers can turn on the system only if a light on the digital cluster shows it's ready to engage.
"On Tesla and other emerging semiautonomous systems, the driver has to signal to the car they are paying attention," de Nysschen said. "It defeats the object of the exercise."
He added that Cadillac will not remove driver controls for the foreseeable future to maintain customer choice in autonomous driving.
Though Cadillac took its time in the rollout of Super Cruise, following automakers such as Tesla and Volvo in introducing a semiautonomous system, it also beat other companies to demonstrating the first coast-to-coast hands-free drive in a production vehicle on U.S. freeways last year.
Tesla made a similar commitment in 2016 to make a hands-free drive by the end of 2017, but has yet to make the journey. On a Feb. 7 call to discuss fourth-quarter earnings, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the self-driving demo could happen in the next three to six months.
In addition to autonomous driving capabilities, Cadillac is working to catch up on electric vehicle development, de Nysschen said, adding that a "disproportionate share" of the 20 full-electric vehicles GM plans to introduce by 2023 will be under the luxury brand's badge.
"Cadillac is the technological spearhead brand within GM," he said.
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