In 2023, General Motors will unveil a new driver-assist system that will allow hands-free driving “in 95 percent of all scenarios.” Called Ultra Cruise, the system will appear first on Cadillac vehicles.
Wait, Don’t They Already Advertise Something Like This?
Ultra Cruise is the next evolution of Super Cruise – a technology that GM plans to offer on 22 vehicles by the end of 2022. Super Cruise combines an adaptive cruise control system with lane-keeping assist. On over 200,000 miles of pre-mapped road, owners of Super Cruise-equipped vehicles can turn on the system and take their hands off the wheel (but not their attention off the road). The car will maintain a safe distance from cars ahead and stay in its lane even as the road turns.
The system tracks the driver’s attention. It prompts them to take control if highway conditions change or the driver’s eyes drift.
A planned update of Super Cruise will let drivers tow a trailer hands-free and change lanes just by tapping the turn signal stalk.
How is Ultra Cruise Different?
Ultra Cruise expands that technology to cover most roads, not just some highways. GM says it “will cover more than 2 million miles of roads at launch in the United States and Canada,” and the company will add 1.4 million more. They include “city streets, subdivision streets and paved rural roads” in addition to highways.
Ultra Cruise will be capable of following navigation routes, turning from one road to another, obeying varying speed limits, and reacting to “permanent traffic control devices” like stoplights and signs.
It 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,” GM says.
Not a True Autonomous Driving System
It sounds like the self-driving cars of science fiction, but it isn’t. Not quite.
SAE International, a global association of engineers and related technical experts in the aerospace, automotive, and commercial-vehicle industries, categorizes autonomous systems in six levels. Every system currently for sale is a Level 2 system. That is, the car can move autonomously under predictable circumstances. Drivers can’t take their hands off the wheel for long.
No automaker has yet fielded a system that can respond safely to changing conditions without driver intervention.
Tesla calls its Level 2 system Full Self-Driving. That term has attracted attention from some regulators concerned that the name is misleading and could cause drivers to rely on the system too much. Ultra Cruise, like Full Self-Driving, still requires the driver’s full attention. Drivers can briefly take their hands off the wheel while using them but should never pick up a phone instead.
Cadillac Only, At First
GM will sell Ultra Cruise on Cadillac vehicles first. That will allow the simpler Super Cruise system to trickle down to less-expensive parts of the GM lineup. But we do expect to see Ultra Cruise in GMC and Chevrolet vehicles eventually.
Contingent on the World Working Again
Of course, there’s a short-term problem GM must solve before it can introduce Ultra Cruise. Even Super Cruise isn’t widely available because of it.
A worldwide shortage of microchips has left automakers unable to build enough cars to meet market demand this year. GM recently temporarily stripped the simpler Super Cruise system from nearly every vehicle scheduled to offer it in the 2022 model year because of a lack of the chips needed to build it.
Some analysts now expect the chip shortage to persist through 2022, which could delay any new tech-heavy automotive innovations.
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