Weekly Brief: GM takes on Tesla with new Super Cruise technology

Cadillac will bring self-driving cars closer to mainstream reality when Super Cruise debuts on the CTS this autumn. Andrew Tolve reports

The wait for Super Cruise is finally over. General Motors (GM) announced last week that its vaunted self-driving car technology will debut late this year on its 2018 model Cadillac CTS. Super Cruise is GM’s first foray into self-driving tech for the masses. Much like Tesla’s Autopilot, the feature can take complete control of the vehicle during highway driving and keep it in lane at an appropriate distance from other cars without the driver doing anything other than being present and paying attention.

Those two qualifications are part of the reason we've had to wait so long for Super Cruise. The technology includes a facial recognition component that ensures drivers are closely engaged in the act of driving, rather than, say, watching a Harry Potter movie, as was the Tesla driver who died last year in Florida when Autopilot was engaged. If Super Cruise detects a distracted driver, it fires off a visual alert, vibrates the seat and plays a recorded message. If there’s still no response, it throws on the flashers, slows the car to a standstill and gets OnStar emergency response on the job. 

Another distinction from Autopilot is that Super Cruise incorporates LiDAR mapping data, thanks to a fleet of Cadillac mapping cars that are criss-crossing the United States building up Super Cruise’s database of approved roads. The technology, therefore, only works on those highways that have been previously driven by Cadillac’s mapping fleet – a further safety precaution against Tesla’s string of Autopilot accidents. Cadillac drivers will have to pay $2,500 (£1,900) to bring Super Cruise onboard.

In other news, Elon Musk, the outspoken owner of Tesla, captured the auto world's interest yet again last week with a simple tweet: “Tesla Semi truck unveil set for September. Team has done an amazing job. Seriously next level.” An all-electric semi? Out this autumn? Given Musk's Donald Trumpian flair for hyperbole and appetite for media attention, it's likely that we'll only be getting a sneak peek come September, rather than a production-ready big rig. Keep a look out for how big a battery Tesla can cook up and whether it can handle the range that truckers expect to cover on a single drive. If so, this could be a game changer.

Honda has transformed its Silicon Valley Lab into a new company called Honda Innovations. The spin-off will broaden its focus from connected car technologies to connected mobility, including connected vehicle/IoT services, human machine interface, machine intelligence/robotics, connected services, personal mobility, sharing economy and industrial innovation. The founding goal is to seek out and forge global alliances and partnerships across these various areas. Additionally, Honda Innovations will facilitate discussions on technical collaboration with Waymo to integrate Waymo’s self-driving technology with vehicles from Honda.

Uber released its financial figures for the first time in an attempt to allay fears among investors after a tumultuous three months for the ridesharing giant. The figures revealed that Uber hauled in $20Bn (£16Bn) in gross bookings in 2016, and those bookings increased 28% in the last three months of the year. All of which is great until you learn that, in spite of those strong numbers, Uber still lost $2.8Bn (£2.2Bn) in 2016 and has never turned a profit.

Speaking of ride-sharing, Lyft closed a $600M (£477M) round of new funding that it hopes to use to further tighten the gap with Uber. The round was led by private equity firm KKR with a post-money valuation of $7.5Bn (£5.9Bn).

Hyundai is jumping into the personal voice assistant future with its new Blue Link Agent for the Google Assistant. Blue Link Agent allows drivers to send commands to their Hyundai vehicles via the Google Assistant on Google Home. That means they’ll be able to do everything from remote start their cars to set climate control and initiate charging on the electric Ioniq, all from the comfort of their couches with simple voice commands. Google Assistant debuts with the 2018 Hyundai Sonata.

Vehicle engineering firm HORIBA MIRA has joined forces with Coventry University in England to launch a new automotive research centre dedicated to developing intelligent, connected vehicle technology. The Centre for Connected & Autonomous Automotive Research will pioneer and test new developments for self-driving cars, focusing specifically on safety, security, new services and nurturing a steady pipeline of engineering talent devoted to autonomous vehicle technology. The centre will be located at the existing MIRA Technology Park just north of Coventry.

Finally, cyber security was back in the headlines last week, as cyber security firm Argus remotely hacked into Bosch's Drivelog Connector dongle, injected malicious messages into the in-vehicle network and finally wrested full control of a moving car. Talk about a black eye for Bosch. Thankfully, Argus researchers had the common courtesy to let the folks at Bosch know about the vulnerability after making them look silly. The problem involvesthe authentication process between the dongle and the Drivelog Connect smartphone application. Bosch says it’s working on a fix.

The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU-Automotive analysis with information from industry sources.

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