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Tesla's automated driving system overtaken by Cadillac

10/10/2018
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Though we’re still a little way from fully self-driving cars, Advanced Driver Assist Systems (ADAS) are increasingly becoming an essential feature offered by leading manufacturers. 

Tesla's Autopilot came second to Cadillac during tests

Tesla in particular have been very vocal about emphasising their “Enhanced Autopilot” system, which they claim is a precursor to fully autonomous driving tech. However, Consumer Reports’ first ever ranking of automated driving systems put Tesla in second place, edged out by the superior design of Cadillac’s “Super Cruise”.

CR put four of the major players of automated driving systems to the test - Tesla’s Enhanced Autopilot, Cadillac’s Super Cruise, Nissan’s ProPilot Assist and Volvo’s Pilot Assist (similar systems, such as those offered by Honda and Toyota were ignored since those companies don’t market the features as “automated driving”).

Cadillac's Super Cruise was rated best for driver engagement and capability

Since each system is designed to aid drivers without completely taking over, the tests looked at how each one monitored driver engagement and the steps they took to reduce “over reliance”, as well as rating how well the technology works. 

Jake Fisher, CR’s director of auto testing explained “Stacked up against each other, you can really see significant differences. The best systems balance capability with safeguards - making driving easier and less stressful in the right situation. Without proper safeguards, overreliance on the system is too easy, which puts drivers at risk.”

They concluded that Cadillac provided the best solution to retain driver engagement, while also matching Tesla’s for capability. Tesla’s Autopilot ranked worst at keeping drivers engaged, bringing its overall score down to second place.

The categories tested were: 

  • Capability and performance
  • Ease of use
  • Clear when safe to use
  • Keeping driver engaged
  • Unresponsive driver
Cadillac CT6 - tested for Super Cruise

Cadillac Super Cruise
Tested on Cadillac CT6

Cadillac came out on top thanks to its competent Capability and Performance scores and superior Driver Engagement scores. The Super Cruise system features a camera that tracks the driver’s eyes to see how focused they are on the road. If their eyes close or look away for more than four seconds, the car will flash two visual warnings followed by an audible alert. If the driver still seems unresponsive the car will gradually apply the brakes, keeping the vehicle in its lane until it stops, and will call an emergency number. It will also lock the system out until the car has been shut off and restarted.

Super Cruise also scored well for making it clear when the system could be used. If the car went beyond its operational limits (for example if it was driven on an unrecognised road - the car can only be used on roads GM has mapped), it would let the driver know when and why it could not be engaged. It was the only car tested that would provide sufficient warning to the driver as it approached areas it would not be useful.

Tesla Model X - Tested for Autopilot
Tesla Autopilot
Tested on Tesla Model X, Model S, Model 3

Tesla excelled for capability and ease of use, but scored the worst for keeping the driver engaged.

Like the Super Cruise, Autopilot was excellent at automating speed control, steering the car to stay within the centre of the lane and maintaining a safe distance from the car ahead in stop-and-go traffic. A clear display showing when the system was turned on and providing detailed information about what the car’s sensors were doing made it easy to use.

However the downside of it being so good at staying in the lane meant drivers were more likely to lose focus, and the car didn’t do enough to keep them engaged. Autopilot monitors pressure on the steering wheel, as opposed to Super Cruise’s eye-tracking camera, and doesn’t attempt a visual alert for a full 24 seconds.

Infiniti QX50 - tested for ProPilot Assist

Nissan ProPilot Assist
Tested on Infiniti QX50, Nissan Leaf

Nissan’s ProPilot Assist was judged as relatively easy to use, but struggled to keep the car in the centre of the lane on curvy or hilly roads. Like Tesla’s system, driver engagement was measured using pressure on the steering wheel, but the less capable system means drivers are forced to stay engaged and are less likely to overrely on it.

The ProPilot Assist can’t be engaged at low speeds unless there is a vehicle immediately in front of it, but this is not obvious on the display. When it does detect an unresponsive driver it applies a sudden, hard braking before bringing the car completely to a stop.

Volvo XC60 - Tested for Pilot Assist

Volvo Pilot Assist

Tested on Volvo XC40, XC60

Volvo scored lowest in the tests, with the CR finding the same capability as Nissan’s systems - the car struggled to stay in the middle of the lane on curvy or hilly roads. Driver engagement was again monitored by pressure on the steering wheel, however the car’s only reaction to an unresponsive driver was to shut off the system completely without applying any breaking or lane assist. After CR completed the tests, Volvo amended the wording on their website to remove the connection between Pilot Assist and autonomous driving.

Advanced driver assist systems are set to become more popular and will continue to grow in functionality and complexity. But for manufacturers, the challenge is to remember that the person in the driver’s seat remains in control, and not let them get over reliant, no matter how smart their systems are.

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Tesla's automated driving system overtaken by Cadillac - Time to read 5 min
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