General Motors’ next-generation Ultra Cruise hands-free driving system will make its debut on the Cadillac Celestiq supercar, the automaker’s CEO Mary Barra announced at the Consumer Electronics Show.
The technology — set to debut in 2023 — will eventually offer the ability to drive hands-free “on every paved road in the U.S. and Canada,” Barra said, taking autonomous driving well beyond the capabilities of GM’s current Super Cruise technology.
To make that possible will require a significant step up in processing power, GM said, announcing the automaker is teaming up with Qualcomm Technologies to use the computing firm’s new Snapdragon Ride Platform. It will be the first to use the system-on-a-chip technology specifically developed for advanced driver assistance systems.
GM already offers limited hands-free driving capability with Super Cruise. It’s capable of operating without driver intervention on about 200,000 miles of U.S. and Canadian limited-access highways. By next year, Barra noted, the system will be available on 22 GM vehicles.
Going the extra mile(s)
But Ultra Cruise will take things further, taking control of a vehicle on local roads, even crowded subdivisions, as well as open highways. All told, it eventually will provide “robust door-to-door hands-free driving in 95% of all driving scenarios” in the U.S. and Canada, the automaker said in a statement.
Pulling that off requires a significant step up in sensor and microprocessing hardware, as well as software. To start, Ultra Cruise-capable vehicles will be outfitted with lidar, a 3D form of laser technology, as well as radar and camera sensors.
To “fuse” together the data from all those sensors in real time, GM is turning to the Snapdragon system which will be the heart of a computers about the size of two conventional laptops. Two different Qualcomm microprocessors will be used in the AI system which can perform 300 terraflops, effectively 300 trillion calculations, per second.
“Despite its relatively small size, Ultra Cruise’s computer will have the processing capability of several hundred personal computers,” said Ken Morris, GM vice president of Electric, Autonomous and Fuel Cell Vehicle Programs. “It will take qualities that have distinguished GM’s advanced driver assist systems since 2017 to the next level with door-to-door hands-free driving.”
An evolving technology
The Ultra Cruise system will evolve over time. It will start off with a more limited range of roads where it can operate, according to GM. Part of the challenge will be to map virtually an entire continent in extremely high detail. The ongoing process is one reason why Super Cruise has steadily grown in terms of where it can operate.
The ability to use smartphone-style over-the-updates will allow GM to upgrade a vehicle’s Ultra Cruise system over time.
GM is investing $35 billion in its electric and autonomous vehicle programs, Barra noted at CES. The automaker’s newest battery-electric vehicles are being equipped with the new Ultifi electrical architecture which will make it easier to integrate new technology like Ultra Cruise, company officials previously explained.
The hands-free system will debut on the Celestiq, a sleek and exotic sports car Cadillac plans to bring out for the 2024 model year. It will be “hand-built and hand-crafted,” Barra said during an hourlong CES presentation.
Eventually, it will be shared with other models, Barra noting GM’s goal of having fully autonomous technology available for retail products in mid-decade.
The automaker also is working on autonomous technology and is now field-testing a completely driverless system through its Cruise subsidiary. The unit recently became the first company authorized to serve ride-hailing customers in San Francisco. It is also working on a driverless shuttle, the Cruise Origin, which is expected to begin testing on public rides in the near future.