Autos

GM is developing next-gen 'Ultra Cruise' semi-autonomous driving system to combat Tesla's Autopilot

Key Points
  • General Motors is developing a next-generation semi-autonomous driving system that's internally being referred to as "Ultra Cruise."
  • The new driver-assist system takes the automaker's current Super Cruise system that has the capability to operate on highway systems to city streets.
  • Being able to operate on city streets would better position GM's technology against Tesla's Autopilot.
GM's Enhanced Super Cruise will include automated lane change, which will allow the hands-free system to change lanes on the highway when requested on demand.
GM

General Motors is developing a new semi-autonomous driving system that's internally being referred to as "Ultra Cruise," an executive with the automaker said Tuesday. 

The next-generation system takes the automaker's current Super Cruise system that has the capability to operate on highway systems to city streets, according to Doug Parks, GM executive vice president of Global Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain.

"We have another big team inside the company hat that's being worked on internally," he said Tuesday morning during Citi's 2020 Car of the Future Symposium. "Ultra Cruise's domain would be all driving, all the time."  

Being able to operate on city streets as well as other highway enhancements mentioned by Parks such as lane changing and operating on exit ramps would better position GM's technology against Tesla's Autopilot driver-assist system.

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Tesla and GM are considered the leaders in terms of semi-autonomous driver-assist systems. Other automakers such as Nissan Motor and Ford Motor have advanced adaptive cruise control systems that can control a vehicles space between vehicles and lane markers. These systems however aren't as capable or robust for normal driving situations.

GM launched Super Cruise in 2017, two years after Tesla debuted Autopilot. The Detroit automaker has been extremely conservative in its rollout of the technology, despite development of the system going back a decade or so.

Due to the slower launch and additional safeguards, Super Cruise has not received as much attention or scrutiny as Autopilot, which has more functionality, like city streets. Tesla has faced questions about Autopilot's role in a few fatal crashes and driver misuse.

Unlike Autopilot, Super Cruise is limited to more than 200,000 miles of limited-access freeways in the U.S. and Canada that have been mapped with high-definition lidar technology to assist the on-board system of cameras, radars and sensors. It also uses facial recognition to identify whether the driver is paying attention so there's no need for drivers to touch the steering wheel while the system is operating.

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Parks said the new system would not be fully autonomous. GM has its majority owned subsidiary, Cruise, developing fully autonomous driving vehicles. 

"We're trying to be focused in on how can we continue to give drivers additional capability, above and beyond the highways, at a priceable level," he said.

Parks said "Ultra Cruise" may not be the system's official name. GM declined to comment on the timing or other details of the system outside of Park's comments.

"At the same time, we have teams looking at how we can expand the capabilities to more scenarios," the company said in an emailed statement. "We do not have a name or anything specific to announce today, but stay tuned."

GM CEO Mary Barra first mentioned "Ultra Cruise" last year, answering a question after the company trademarked the name. But she provided little detail about what the system would entail.

"As you mentioned with Ultra Cruise, this is a technology," she said Aug. 1 during an earnings call with investors. "You saw us continue to improve it with the number of places you can use it. We're going to continue to add capability, and we're very excited about it and the roadmap that we have. So, we'll be rolling it out as quickly as we can with, again, having a strong focus on safety."

GM announced plans earlier this year to expand its Super Cruise to 22 vehicles by 2023, including 10 by next year.