GM taps Qualcomm to power new hands-free driver assistance system

When GM releases its new Ultra Cruise hands-free driver assistance system in 2023 — starting with Cadillac — it will be powered by the latest Snapdragon system-on-chip from Qualcomm. The announcement, made at 2022 CES, illustrates Qualcomm’s success in capturing more market share in the automotive sector, specifically in ADAS.

The system-on-chip, called Snapdragon Ride Platform, was developed for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and automated driving. It’s one of a suite of cloud-connected platforms introduced by Qualcomm that automakers can adopt in full or à la carte.

GM’s Ultra Cruise system is supposed to be a more capable iteration of its Super Cruise ADAS that was first introduced in 2017.

The automaker says Ultra Cruise will be able to handle 95% of all driving scenarios and eventually be used on every paved road in the U.S. and Canada. That’s a tall order; and to achieve it, GM is using a trio of sensors — cameras, radar and lidar, which will debut on the luxury electric Cadillac Celestiq— combined with its own software and Qualcomm’s processor.

To dig into the weeds a bit, the Ultra Cruise compute, which is about the size of two laptops stacked together, is made up of two Snapdragon SA8540P SoCs and one SA9000P AI accelerator to deliver low-latency control functions on 16-core CPUs and AI compute of more than 300 Tera operations per second for camera, radar and lidar processing.

The Snapdragon SoCs are designed with 5nm process technology. The compute unit also includes an Infineon Aurix TC397 processor for system safety integrity. The Aurix TC397 is categorized ASIL-D, which is considered the highest level of automotive safety integrity.

All of this translates to a compute system that will have the processing capability of several hundred personal computers, according to Ken Morris, GM vice president of electric, autonomous and fuel cell vehicle programs, who said it will take the company’s advanced driver assist system launched in 2017 “to the next level with door-to-door hands-free driving.”

Nakul Duggal, senior vice president and GM of automotive at Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. senior vice president and GM, Automotive said the Ultra Cruise system powered by Snapdragon Ride on Cadillac vehicles “will be an experiential and technological leap forward for the industry.”

Super Cruise vs 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. Users of Super Cruise do not need to have their hands on the wheel. However, their eyes must remain directed straight ahead.

Ultra Cruise might be more robust and will be available on more roads, however 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 (not just lidar map data), 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.