General Motors has partnered with Qualcomm to provide the computing power for its next-generation hands-free driver-assistance system. First announced in October 2021, the new system is called Ultra Cruise, and it one-ups the (already very competent) GM Super Cruise in terms of performance and operational design domain.
Whereas Super Cruise is limited to restricted access, divided-lane highways, Ultra Cruise will at first operate on more than 2 million miles of roads in the US and Canada. An Ultra Cruise-equipped car will sense its environment using a mix of lidar, optical cameras, and radar to generate a sensor-fused 360-degree view of the world around it. It will recognize and react to permanent traffic control devices like stop signs and traffic lights, and it will even handle left-turns, albeit with a little driver input.
Like Super Cruise, Ultra Cruise is a driver-assistance system (it falls under the SAE’s level 2), and the human driver is still responsible for providing situational awareness (with a driver-monitoring system making sure that’s happening).
“We’ve taken a lot of time to engineer the [human-machine interface] in the vehicle. It’s an all-new dynamic display, trying to instill confidence that the car’s going to do what the driver sees and thinks it should do—and do it the same way every time,” explained Jason Ditman, Ultra Cruise’s chief engineer. “We need to be able to do it the same way over and over again, and if we can’t do it robustly, that’s why it’s nice to have the driver in the loop. That will bring the driver back in, do that complex maneuver, and then we’ll take control again.”
GM had already started working with Qualcomm on Ultra Cruise’s computer by the time we logged our first miles in the production version of Super Cruise in early 2018.
“In order to drive off the freeway—on the surface streets and in subdivisions—you need a different sensing architecture. We’re going with cameras, radars, and a lidar, and you need more of them, and they have to be different,” Ditman explained. “So the ability to process all of that information in real time and make decisions at the rate that you would make a decision as a driver—we needed a new compute. And these Qualcomm chips are at the heart of that compute.”
Specifically, there’s a pair of Snapdragon SA8540P SoCs and an SA9000P AI accelerator, and the system is able to perform more than 300 tera operations per second, processing and fusing the input from the car’s various sensors. Additionally, Infineon provides an ASIL-D certified Aurix TC397 processor for system safety.
Ultra Cruise debuts in 2023 in a new electric Cadillac.