In the distant autonomous future, most mainstream traffic will be robotized—not just the commuter cars, trucks, and SUVs, but work vehicles towing trailers too. We just got a glimpse of that future by piloting a camouflaged 2022 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali diesel pickup with 5,000 pounds’ worth of box trailer hooked to the back around the giant 4.5-mile Circle Track at GM’s Milford Proving Ground in Michigan.
What’s New With Super Cruise?
The Super Cruise computer now detects when a trailer has been hooked up by sensing the electrical connection for the trailer lighting and/or brakes, and also by sensing the trailer’s presence via the short-range radar units that otherwise monitor the truck’s blind spots in back. It then computes a rough guess at the gross combined weight of the truck and trailer by comparing the accelerator position with vehicle acceleration, while also sensing any potential grade the rig may be climbing or descending. This information is used to help gauge potential braking distances when traffic is sensed in front, and it informs a completely different calibration for target lateral and longitudinal response rates (braking, acceleration, and turning).
Super Cruise Calibration Changes for Trailering
In the cars and SUVs currently equipped with Super Cruise, the system often biases toward the inside of bends the way human drivers often do, but with a trailer attached, it hews faithfully to the center of the lane. And because Super Cruise only functions on roadways that have been thoroughly mapped with high-definition lidar, the precise curvature and banking of all turns are known and this information is used to predictively slow the rig to an appropriate speed to negotiate any turn before arriving in the turn.
Automatic Lane Changes! (But Not While Towing)
Out on the big GM Circle Track, we set a 60-mph Super Cruising speed and then repeatedly came up behind vehicles traveling slower. As soon as our speed dropped 2-3 mph, Super Cruise checked our blind spot, signaled, and changed lanes just the way you might if you were driving. This feature relies on the truck’s rear-mounted radar units to monitor the blind spots at a distance and ensure against pulling out into a fast oncoming vehicle. Trailers block their view too much for this feature to be enabled when towing. (Perhaps in the future GMC will offer remote trailer-mount radar units like the cameras it now relies on to generate the Transparent Trailer view to enable this feature.)
Other Cool Trailering Tech
GM added a bunch of cool trailering features for 2021 that nobody had a chance to try out during our lockdown. These include up to 15 camera views—some of which require auxiliary cameras to be installed in and on the trailer. Several of these views are just for checking on cargo or trailer contents, the view immediately in front of the vehicle, etc., and time out after seven seconds. Others can be continuously viewed on the center infotainment screen.
Of these, the coolest is Transparent Trailer view, which stitches together a remarkably contiguous view “through” the trailer, as stitched together from the camera you mount to the trailer, the tailgate camera, and the cameras on the side-view mirrors. Another shows a view split down the middle of the sides of the trailer. When turning, the inside side dominates the view. As you straighten out, the view centers again. The cargo-bed view from a camera mounted by the center high-mount stop light can now be zoomed in, for a closer view of items or a fifth-wheel/gooseneck hitch. There’s a jack-knife prevention program that warns via audible and seat vibration when the trailer is nearing the point of contacting the truck.
And perhaps my favorite: path lines indicating where the trailer will go based on your steering wheel position. Using the auxiliary camera on the back of the trailer, when reversing can really help folks who only tow infrequently to figure out which way to point the wheels to initiate a reversing maneuver and when to unwind the wheel to maintain a constant arc.
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