Qualcomm SoCs Will Power GM's Ultra Cruise Hands-Free Driving System

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Automotive giant General Motors (GM) had teased a host of new electric vehicles at CES 2021. The Cadillac Celestiq, which the company described as an ultra-luxury, fully-electric “show car,” was the star of the show. GM is back at this year’s edition of CES with some more teasers of the vehicle, which it plans to launch next year. The forthcoming flagship sedan will debut its hands-free Ultra Cruise system, powered by the latest Qualcomm chips.

Announced last year, GM’s Ultra Cruise will be the first advanced driver assist system (ADAS) to use Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon Ride Platform. This includes the Snapdragon SA8540P SoC (system-on-a-chip) and SA9000P artificial intelligence accelerator. According to the carmaker, these Qualcomm chips consolidate modules for driver monitoring, mapping, and video processing into one box. This allows for improved system latency.

The chips will deliver “low-latency control functions on 16-core CPUs and high-performance AI compute of more than 300 Tera Operations Per Second for the camera, radar, and lidar processing”. These sensors are used to control the vehicle’s steering, acceleration, and braking. The whole system will include 20 different devices.


Thanks to the consolidated architecture, the new Qualcomm SoCs will also reportedly save GM a lot of space. “It lets us be real efficient with space,” Ditman said. “It gives us the throughput that we need.”

Ultra Cruise is a big step up from the current Super Cruise system

GM’s Ultra Cruise system is a big step up from the company’s current Super Cruise system. The new architecture will reportedly have a size of “two laptops stacked together” and boast the processing power equivalent to “several hundred” personal computers. It will offer hands-free driving on “95 percent of driving scenarios on two million miles of roads in the US”. The current system, meanwhile, only covers mapped, divided highways for hands-free driving.

“We’re attempting to have this feature be sort of a door-to-door driverless operation,” Jason Ditman, chief engineer at GM, told The Verge. “When the vehicle gets onto a capable road, Ultra Cruise will automatically engage and handle the majority of the work, hands-free. Stop signs, stoplights, turns, splits, merges, freeways, subdivision… all of those domains.”


GM has developed the Ultra Cruise system after closely monitoring driver behavior and making appropriate modifications based on those findings. But, despite all the advancements, the company still considers it a Level 2 system of driving automation, on the same level as Tesla Autopilot. At this level, the vehicle can control both steering and acceleration/deceleration. But the driver must remain alert and ready to take control of the vehicle whenever needed.

If the system detects that the driver is not alert, it will send warnings. After several warnings, the system will disengage itself unless the driver takes over the control. As Ditman said, GM’s Ultra Cruise system will serve as a “good training tool to get people to pay attention.”