GM to introduce new hands-free driver assistance system in 2023, starting with Cadillac

GM plans to roll out a new, more capable hands-free driving assistance system in 2023 that will be able to handle 95% of all driving scenarios and eventually be used on every paved road in the U.S. and Canada.

The automaker revealed the new Ultra Cruise system, along with some details on how it functions, during its two-day investor event that kicked off Wednesday. GM did not share information on what it will charge for this system and whether it will be a flat fee or subscription-based.

GM is sticking to the same cautious and slow-roll strategy it used when it launched Super Cruise, a hands-free driver assistance system that it introduced in 2017. That means this newer system will first be released as an option in the Cadillac models and then slowly become available in other GM brands such as GMC and Chevrolet.

It will also be limited in the beginning, although far less than its predecessor system. Drivers who have vehicles with Ultra Cruise will be able to access the system on more than 2 million miles of roads at launch in the United States and Canada. That will eventually grow up to 3.4 million miles, the company said. And unlike the initial version of Super Cruise, this system is designed to work on city and subdivision streets and paved rural roads in addition to highways.

Notably, Super Cruise is not going away. That system, which more recently was upgraded to allow for automatic lane changes and towing support, will continue to be offered as an option by GM.

Super Cruise versus Ultra Cruise

Super Cruise uses a combination of lidar map data, high-precision GPS, cameras and radar sensors, as well as a driver attention system, which monitors the person behind the wheel to ensure they’re paying attention. Unlike Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance system, users of Super Cruise do not need to have their hands on the wheel. However, their eyes must remain directed straight ahead.

The same is true for Ultra Cruise. Jason Ditman, a chief engineer in GM’s automated driving group, noted several times during a briefing with reporters that Ultra Cruise is designed as a so-called Level 2 system. While its functionality might be more robust and it will be available on more roads, it will still require the driver to pay attention at all times.

This means it is not a “fully autonomous” Level 4 system, a level of functionality that means the vehicle can handle all driving without the need of a human, in certain conditions. Level 4 systems are what companies like GM subsidiary Cruise is working to commercialize through a robotaxi application.

Ultra Cruise was designed to build on the capabilities of its Super Cruise system. Ultra Cruise also works through a combination of cameras, radars and lidar, developing accurate, 360-degree, three-dimensional statistical representations of the environment surrounding vehicles with redundancies in critical areas. The company is relying more on its sensors than mapping however.

Together, this means the system will be able to react to traffic lights, follow navigation routes, maintain and follow speed limits, support automatic and on-demand lane changes, make left- and right-hand turns, avoid objects and park in residential driveways.

In addition, Ultra Cruise uses an integrated lidar behind the windshield. The next-generation system is powered by 5-nanometer, scalable compute architecture that works in concert with GM’s Ultifi software platform and its so-called vehicle intelligence platform, or VIP.

GM last week said it was developing a new end-to-end software platform, Ultifi, that will be in vehicles starting in 2023. GM says the software will offer an array of capabilities, including giving drivers access to in-car subscriptions and using over-the-air updates to offer new apps and services.
The software platform will be built on top of the company’s VIP, an underlying hardware architecture that provides greater data processing power.

Like Super Cruise, this new system will have a driver monitoring system. It is also building out a human-machine interface that will give the driver information they need, including when they need to be in control of the vehicle. GM describes the main HMI as a freeform display directly in the driver’s line of sight.

GM is also developing an Ultra Cruise app that can be viewed on the vehicle’s center display when parked. The app will provide more centrally located information, including driver statistics, trips and history.

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