Cadillac is taking its “cue” from Apple and will build an iPad-like interface into its cars starting early next year. The goal is to simplify complicated controls that distract and kill the pleasure of driving, as well as to help reestablish Cadillac as a leader in automotive technology.
Initial impressions based on a preproduction version of the system—called CUE, for Cadillac User Experience—are encouraging. If all works as intended, it could prove to be a huge improvement over the convoluted control knobs on German and Japanese luxury cars.
An eight-inch LCD screen in the center of the dashboard allows users to scroll through menus and drag and drop icons by swiping fingers across it, much like on an iPad.
Display information is paired down to the bare minimum—like prominently showing just the artist and title of a song in the center of the audio menu. Two sensors just below the screen detect when you reach toward it and automatically trigger more information to appear—for example, play, pause and other controls show up along the bottom of the audio menu.
“We’ve been able to simplify the number of controls but still give customers what they need when they need it,” said Stuart Norris, design manager for CUE, during a demonstration of the technology in San Diego.
A panel below the screen has backlit keys for the system’s on/off switch, volume and climate control functions. The buttons don’t move when you touch them, but provide a quick tactile pulse, like a tiny thump beneath your finger.
When the engine is off, the buttons below the screen go dark and the panel “becomes like a piece of sculpture,” said Dave Lyon, GM’s executive director of interior design. The panel also folds up to reveal an illuminated storage bin with a USB port.
Pressing icons and buttons displayed on the touchscreen also gives tactile feedback. Strum down a list of radio stations and you can feel as your fingertip passes over each frequency number.
A 12.3-inch LCD screen behind the steering wheel can be customized to display traditional information like a speedometer and fuel gauge, or three other layouts with navigation, phone and entertainment information. Norris showed how it’s possible to transfer data between the main screen in the center console—such as a destination looked up on the navigation menu—to the screen behind the steering wheel: A quick swipe of the fingers bumps it from one screen to the other.
As with any new technology, this fancy system is not without risks. Ford’s MyTouch system has turned off consumers with sluggish response of its touch-sensitive controls. That’s one reason why Cadillac chose a three-core computer chip capable of executing 1.2 billion instructions per second, says Mike Hichme, engineering manager for CUE.
Selecting a chip with 3.5-times the processing power of current systems was also necessary for the natural language voice recognition, which let’s users speak naturally when asking for a song title or phone number, rather than requiring a set of memorized commands.
One goal was to not require users to learn a new way of doing things, Hichme says, hence the use of natural language voice recognition and the ability to input addresses into the navigation system like one does in Google.
Although there is the risk of being overwhelmed by all of the functionality, CUE engineers and designers assure that even luddites will like it. They can rely on the basic displays and just ignore all of the fancy functions. Conversely, the tech-savvy can run a fully customized screen with disparate functions from the audio, navigation and communication menus.
The system’s touchscreen display is custom-built by Sanyo using layers of technology from multiple manufacturers. The fact that nothing like it exists readymade is the main reason why no other automaker has come out with this technology yet, Hichme says.
It runs on LINUX and Cadillac is curating open-source software development to ensure the system won’t stagnate.
As such, CUE represents a huge paradigm shift. “Two years ago, we didn’t know how to do any of this stuff,” said Micky Bly, executive director of global information systems at GM.
CUE will debut on Cadillac’s all new top-of-the-line XTS sedan early next year, followed by the compact ATS sedan, also an all-new model. The goal is to CUE up every future Cadillac.