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GM Ultra Cruise hands-free system will take on Tesla Full Self-Driving

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GM announced Wednesday that it will introduce a new semi-self-driving suite above its Super Cruise offering. Dubbed Ultra Cruise, it will coexist with GM’s existing tech as it goes toe-to-toe with Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving.” GM says it will be compatible with more than 2 million miles of U.S. and Canadian roadways (with lots of headroom for expansion) and operate in more than 95% of normal driving situations at launch.

The system will utilize more sensors than the existing Super Cruise system, with “cameras, radars and lidar, developing accurate, 360-degree, three-dimensional statistical representations of the environment surrounding vehicles with redundancies in critical areas.” Tesla has long eschewed lidar technology as a means to improve its Autopilot and Full Self-Driving suites, but may be coming around on it. And Tesla recently dropped radar on Model 3 and Model Y to rely on cameras.

While there are many competent semi-self-driving systems on the market today, true autonomous vehicles are still in their earliest stages, with Google’s Waymo generally considered the leader of the race. Early releases of Tesla’s many-times-delayed Full Self-Driving suite have demonstrated just how infantile the technology is, and even it is leaps and bounds ahead of other commercially available technology – and with good reason. 

Related: GM sets goals of doubling revenue, leading U.S. electric vehicle sales

Semi-self-driving suites offered in typical mainstream cars are effective upgrades to adaptive cruise control, but even the ability to go for hours on the highway with limited input is nothing compared to the demands placed on a true self-driving platform. Things we take for granted in everyday driving — reacting to traffic lights and signs, changing lanes, navigating turn lanes and safely pulling into traffic, driving close to obstacles such as construction barricades, or something as simple as properly negotiating a tight driveway — are beyond the scope of all other advanced driver assistance suites. 

“Ultra Cruise is not just a game changer in terms of what it enables ­− a door-to-door hands-free driving experience − but a technological one as well,” said Doug Parks, GM executive vice president of Global Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain. “It’s been developed completely in-house. The combination of Ultra Cruise for premium offerings and Super Cruise for lower-cost products will enable us to offer driver-assist technology across price points and segments,” he said.

Like Tesla, GM’s offering will support over-the-air (OTA) software updates allowing both maintenance and expansion as issues are identified or upgrade modules are made available. Look for Ultra Cruise to debut next year on a so-far unnamed 2023 Cadillac model

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