General Motors is close to taking its self-driving tech onto neighborhood streets.
The automaker currently offers a Super Cruise system that allows for hands-off driving on more than 200,000 miles of highways, but its head of product development says it will soon introduce an Ultra Cruise version that will allow cars to operate independently in cities and suburbs.
Doug Parks told the Citi 2020 Car of the Future Virtual Symposium that the new feature will be able to provide nearly all driving, all the time. He noted that Ultra Cruise is an internal designation and that the marketing team may come up with a new name for it before in launches in a production vehicle.
Parks said that a driver will be required to monitor what’s going on, but that like Super Cruise they’ll be able to do it with their feet off the pedals and hands off the steering wheel, as long as they’re ready to take over when needed.
"What we're not saying is that Ultra Cruise will be fully autonomous 100 percent of the time, although that could be one of the endgames," Parks said.
Super Cruise uses facial recognition technology to ensure a driver is looking ahead with their eyes open, and a combination of cameras, GPS and hyper-accurate 3D maps to steer the vehicle in a lane on certain highways. The ability to change lanes and transfer between highways will debut later this year and further functions can added through over-the-air software updates. Earlier this year, GM President Mark Ruess said Super Cruise has had an "incident-free" record since it first launched in 2017.
Unlike Tesla, which has promised that the Full Self-Driving Capability feature it currently offers will eventually provide full autonomy, Parks doesn’t think it will be possible to get to that level at an affordable price for a privately-owned car in the near future. He said the truly full autonomous vehicles being developed by GM’s Cruise division are equipped with around $100,000 worth of sensors, and that Super Cruise and Ultra Cruise are being developed to provide most of that capability at an attainable cost.
Tesla currently charges $7,000 for Full Self-Driving Capability, but periodically increases the price as new functions are added. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that by the time it achieves full autonomy and is certified for use by the government, its value to a Tesla owner will be over $100,000, in part because they will be able to register it for a robo-taxi service the automaker is planning to create.