GM's Ultra Cruise to Bring Hands-Free Driving

Chris Teague | Oct 06, 2021

General Motors is moving full steam ahead with electrification, but that's not the only trick the automaker has up its sleeve. Today, GM announced Ultra Cruise, an advanced driver-assistance feature that will allow hands-free vehicle operation in 95 percent of driving scenarios, the automaker says.

GM Ultra Cruise Illustration

At launch, the new tech will work on more than two million miles of road in the United States and Canada. GM says that number can expand to more than 3.4 million miles in the future. The automaker notes that Ultra Cruise will enable drivers to travel hands-free on nearly every type of road, including city streets and paved rural roads.

GM intends for Ultra Cruise to be an evolution of General Motors' Super Cruise, which has been available in Cadillac vehicles for a few years and recently became an option for other models. GM's new Ultifi software powers the magic behind the scenes. The automaker says its cutting-edge platform will enable new automated driving features, such as support for left- and right-hand turns, the ability to react to permanent traffic control devices, and providing real-time feedback to drivers.

Though there isn't a defined beta testing period at this point, GM says it will use vehicles' onboard diagnostic and learning systems to identify scenarios where Ultra Cruise isn't up to the task. Once the computer has determined that Ultra Cruise needs upgrading, it triggers a data recorder that transmits information to GM's back-office data center. The automaker will use that data to improve Ultra Cruise over time.

Unsurprisingly, it takes plenty of hardware to achieve even rudimentary autonomous driving or driver-assistance functionality. Ultra Cruise relies on cameras, radar, and LiDAR to develop a 360-degree, 3-dimensional picture of its environment. General Motors notes that redundancies are built into critical areas, which should improve the reliability and accuracy of the system. There's also an integrated LiDAR behind the windshield.

Though future GM vehicles may offer some degree of autonomous driving functionality, humans aren't removed from the picture entirely. A Human Machine Interface, or HMI, will deliver information and notifications to the driver, such as when they need to take control of the vehicle. Ultra Cruise's HMI builds on the system used by Super Cruise and will monitor driver awareness through the same camera system.

General Motors has not shared pricing or specific release dates for Ultra Cruise but says the tech will become available on select models in 2023. Cadillac will be the first GM brand to offer the feature before it rolls out to other models in the automaker's catalog.

General Motors is the source of information for this article. It was accurate on October 6, 2021, but it may have changed since that date.

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