GM reveals Ultra Cruise, a proper Tesla Full Self-Driving beta rival

Super Cruise will handle hands-free highway driving; Ultra Cruise, GM promises, will be onboard to tackle hands-free driving in 95% of all scenarios.

Sean Szymkowski
It all started with Gran Turismo. From those early PlayStation days, Sean was drawn to anything with four wheels. Prior to joining the Roadshow team, he was a freelance contributor for Motor Authority, The Car Connection and Green Car Reports. As for what's in the garage, Sean owns a 2016 Chevrolet SS, and yes, it has Holden badges.
Sean Szymkowski
2 min read
GM Ultra Cruise

A big step up from Super Cruise.

General Motors

General Motors revealed the ace up its sleeve when it comes to driver-assist technologies on Wednesday: Ultra Cruise. The automaker announced the new system as a more capable sibling of today's Super Cruise system. While Super Cruise is rated for hands-free driving on mapped, divided highways in the US and Canada, Ultra Cruise takes it further. In addition to highways, GM said it will handle hands-free driving in 95% of all scenarios. We're talking city streets, subdivision streets and even paved rural roads.

At launch in 2023, Ultra Cruise will cover 2 million miles of roads in the US and Canada, but the automaker has quick plans to add another 1.4 million miles' worth of roads. And when this happens, GM plans for a big strategy shift in which vehicles offer either Super Cruise or Ultra Cruise. Cadillac will be the exclusive brand to provide the Ultra Cruise driving experience, while Super Cruise trickles down to more mainstream offerings from GMC, Buick and Chevrolet. Don't expect Ultra Cruise on a Chevy anytime soon, in other words.

With a combination of cameras, radars and lidar onboard to create the Ultra Cruise system, the technology will support everything from parking in your driveway to object avoidance (that's good), on-demand lane changes and left- and right-hand turns. All of this works with a human-machine interface directly in front of the driver, so they know exactly what the car sees. All the while, Super Cruise's Driver Attention Camera system remains onboard with Ultra Cruise. The technology will require a driver's full attention so they can take back control when Ultra Cruise needs to hand things back to a human. And with that said, this means Ultra Cruise still doesn't constitute a fully autonomous system. This should still register as a Level 2 driver-assist system, based on the SAE Scale of Autonomy.

Still, this sounds like the closest anyone's come to rivaling Tesla's Full Self-Driving beta, which as a reminder, also isn't a fully autonomous system. Nevertheless, FSD promises driving capabilities on all streets, not just highways, just as GM intends to accomplish. We'll have to wait and see how both systems shape up once GM's ready to take to the streets with Ultra Cruise.

Watch this: A reality check on Tesla Full Self-Driving: What it is and how to get it