General Motors' Super Cruise hands-off driver-assist feature for highways is already one of the best performing self-driving systems on the market, and from 2023 it's going to get a whole lot better.

GM plans to launch an upgraded version called Ultra Cruise, which the automaker says will handle 95% of the country's roads, meaning many journeys won't require any actual driving by a human. Like Super Cruise, Ultra Cruise will still require the driver to monitor things at all times and take action when necessary. Otherwise, it will shut down. This means it will still rank at Level 2 on the SAE scale of self-driving capability. To rank above Level 2, self-driving systems need to function in eyes-off mode.

Nevertheless, GM says Ultra Cruise will recognize permanent traffic control devices, follow navigation routes, follow posted speed limits, perform both automatic and on-demand lane changes, perform left and right turns, avoid objects, and park in a residential driveway.

Making this all possible is complex software, a database of highly detailed maps, and numerous sensors. Everything is processed by a scalable computer which then controls the vehicle. This computer, which will roughly be the size of two laptops, stacked one on top of the other, will feature Qualcomm's new Snapdragon Ride Platform, GM announced on Thursday at the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show.

GM Ultra Cruise onboard computer featuring Qualcomm Snapdragon Ride Platform

GM Ultra Cruise onboard computer featuring Qualcomm Snapdragon Ride Platform

The computer, which according to GM has the processing power of several hundred personal computers, features a pair of Snapdragon SA8540P system-on-chips and a SA9000P AI accelerator. This powerful combination will provide the necessary bandwidth for Ultra Cruise’s sensing, perception, planning, localization, mapping and driver monitoring. That's a lot of tasks, all of which need to be completed in a fraction of a second, repeatedly.

GM says the computer can also be updated via over-the-air software updates, meaning it's future-proofed for further advancements in GM's self-driving technology.

The first vehicles to feature Ultra Cruise will be from GM's Cadillac brand. The system will eventually be expanded to more of the automaker's brands, though timing is unclear.

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