GM Ultra Cruise Brings True Hands-Free Driving

Designed to ultimately enable hands-free driving in 95 percent of all driving scenarios, GM's Ultra Cruise technology eventually can be used on every paved road in the U.S. and Canada. (General Motors)

General Motors (GM) has introduced Ultra Cruise, its next-generation Level 2 advanced driving assistance system (ADAS) that will allow the car to drive itself in 95 percent of all driving situations, the automaker claims.

In 2023, Ultra Cruise will debut in select Cadillac models and co-exist with GM’s Super Cruise ADAS. GM says Ultra Cruise will be saved for their high-end models, while it will use super Cruise in more mass-market cars and trucks. Currently, Super Cruise enables hands-free driving on 200,000 miles of divided highways.

On the other hand, Ultra Cruise is programmed to deliver driving on more than 2 million miles of roads with minimal input from the driver in 95 percent of all situations. GM says it can “eventually be used on every paved road in the United States and Canada,” with plans to expand to 3.4 million miles of asphalt. Using camera, radar, and LiDAR technology, Ultra Cruise processes the environment 360 degrees around the vehicle and enables it to make decisions.

Unlike Ford’s BlueCruise or Volvo’s Highway Pilot, both of which offer hands-free driving only on divided highways, Ultra Cruise can operate on urban city streets. Highlights include the ability to understand and react to traffic signals and stop signs, execute right- and left-hand turns, and self-park in driveways.

GM envisions a door-to-door autonomous experience. The following are its capabilities, according to the automaker’s press release:

• Provide users with information based on their experience with the system through an all-new dynamic display

• React to permanent traffic control devices

• Follow internal navigation routes

• Maintain headway; follow speed limits

• Support automatic and on-demand lane change

• Support left- and right-hand turns

• Support close-object avoidance

• Support parking in residential driveways

But don’t be misled to believe you can snooze on your way to work or turn on Netflix and tune out. Level 2 means that even though the car is in control of steering, braking, and accelerating, the driver must pay attention to the road and be ready to take over at any time. For instance, the system is currently unable to process a roundabout (traffic circle), among other examples. GM notes explicitly in their press release that drivers should not use a hand-held device while operating the vehicle. GM will use a Human Machine Interface system to monitor the driver’s attention levels and virtually rap the driver on the knuckles if alertness toward the road wanes.

GM will provide software updates, feature improvements, and additional functions through over-the-air updates, and the company will gather all data for analysis. GM says their ultimate goal is to have zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion in their vehicles.

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