For automakers and technology companies working on autonomous driving technology, making vehicles perform well in inclement conditions such as snow or fog remains a persistent challenge. But it turns out even a little sunshine can flummox emerging driver-assist systems.
Take Cadillac's Super Cruise system, the hands-free driving assistant that can navigate most U.S. highways on its own, as long as the driver stays attentive. It's considered the most robust system on the market in terms of reliability and safety, and yet it continues to have problems when sunlight causes it to abruptly disengage.
The issue, which has persisted since Super Cruise was launched on the 2018 CT6 sedan, involves sunlight blinding the infrared camera that's mounted atop the steering wheel column. The camera is a critical part of a system that monitors the driver's attentiveness.
"Just as the sun makes it hard for you to see what's ahead of you, it does the same thing for a camera," said Sam Abuelsamid, an engineer and Navigant Research analyst. "It is a challenge."
General Motors isn't alone in facing this problem. All automakers that offer such systems will have to find a solution — particularly as they devise driver monitoring systems. It's one example of the fickle nature of such systems and the challenges facing engineers as automakers strive to perfect autonomous vehicle technology.
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.