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GM To Launch Hands-Free Ultra Cruise On 2M Miles Of Roads In 2023

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at October 6, 2021

At General Motors

investor day presentations today, the automaker officially confirmed the launch of its next generation hands-free partially automated driving assistance system, Ultra Cruise. Unlike the Super Cruise system that launched in 2017 which only allows use on divided highways, Ultra Cruise is planned to work in 95% of all driving scenarios when it launches in 2023. It is based on a significantly more powerful compute platform and includes more capable sensors including lidar. 

GM executives first referenced Ultra Cruise two years ago without giving much detail on its capabilities. The biggest changes from Super Cruise are the addition of lidar and a new compute platform that uses current state of the art 5nm process technology. Ultra Cruise will initially be offered on a few premium models eventually growing to most of its lineup over time. Super Cruise is expected to be available on more than 20 models by the time Ultra Cruise debuts and it will continue to be available concurrently with the new system. 

Like Super Cruise (and Tesla’s

full self-driving), Ultra Cruise will continue to be a so-called level 2 system that requires the driver to remain alert and supervise the system at all times. A driver monitoring system will continue to be used to ensure the driver stays engaged. The driver monitor system will be modified to deal with the system’s capability to make turns which may occasionally block the current camera as the wheel turns or continue to detect the driver as they turn to look around a corner.

Like Super Cruise, the new system is also geofenced but it now includes 2 million miles of paved roads of all types including suburban and urban streets. 

Ultra Cruise will have the capability to follow a navigation route, traversing interchanges, making right and left turns and responding to traffic signals, at least on all of the roads it has mapped. It should even be able to park in most driveways. All of this functionality is planned to be enabled from launch. Unlike what Tesla offers in its full self-driving beta, the system will offer hands-free capability in all of these scenarios. Over time, GM expects to add additional functionality as well as expanding the mapped roads to more than 3.4 million miles. 

For Super Cruise, GM uses lidar maps provided by Ushr. Chief engineer Jason Ditman acknowledged that approach would not be cost effective to map millions of miles of roads. Instead, GM has developed its own in-house mapping solution for Utlra Cruise but Ditman declined to provide details. 

GM expects the system to function in 95% of all driving on the mapped roads, the exceptions being where road construction or other obstructions has led to changes that aren’t yet reflected in the maps, or some particularly complex road configurations. The system may also struggle with some weather conditions and may not be able to operate in some particularly bad weather conditions.

The underlying hardware platform is planned to be significantly more robust than Super Cruise. Like the current system, cameras and radar will continue to be part of the package, but lidar has now been added. At launch, the lidar will be supplied by Japanese lighting supplier Koito based on technology from San Jose, California-based startup Cepton. Cepton has a fully solid state lidar system that uses micro-motion technology to steer the laser beam. The lidar sensor will be mounted behind the windshield near the mirror. 

The cameras and radar are said to be all-new but GM isn’t elaborating on any specifics right now. Given the added capabilities, it seems likely that higher resolution cameras will be part of the package. GM recently announced an investment in Oculii, a startup developing high-definition imaging radar software, but the automaker has not revealed if that technology will be used in Ultra Cruise.  Some of the cameras will also feature cleaning systems.

Processing all the additional data coming from the new sensors and handling the new scenarios will require more computing power. At this point, GM isn’t saying what processor is being used except that it will utilize the latest 5 nm silicon processes. In January 2020, Qualcomm

announced its Snapdragon Ride platform for driver assist and automated driving systems. At the time, Qualcomm said they had won a 2023 production program for the platform but couldn’t reveal which customer that was for. GM declines to say who is supplying the compute for Ultra Cruise, but the timing works for Qualcomm to be the vendor. 

At this point, GM isn’t providing any details about which vehicles will launch Utra Cruise or the cost, but the upcoming Cadillac Celestiq electric flagship sedan seems like a likely candidate.


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