GM's CUE System: A Revolutionary Next Step For Vehicle Interfaces?

October 13, 2011
GM's upcoming CUE (Cadillac User Experience) system, which will go into the luxury brand's next-generation vehicles, led by the 2013 Cadillac XTS sedan, might just change the way in which we see in-car interfaces.

With CUE, which will be exclusive to Cadillac but might eventually be seen on other models in a few years, GM [NYSE: GM] boasts several auto-industry firsts: the first fully capacitative touch screen in the auto industry, and the first to incorporate proximity sensing, as well as multi-touch gestures like those we've become accustomed to with out smartphones and tablets. It's also an industry first (not just autos, but all of consumer electronics) for touch-sensitive haptic feedback technology—not even featured in any tablet or personal computing device—that sends feedback to fingertips with gentle pushbacks, to key the user in on menus and borders without keeping eyes on the screen.

In addition to the screen-based interface, CUE will include next-generation natural-language voice controls, developed with Nuance. According to GM, you won't need to think about getting through submenues before, for instance, requesting that it play a certain song or artist.

Real-time sync for media contents

CUE is also the first automotive infotainment system we're aware of that will index all the content of all the devices you connect—media devices, SD card, memory stick, phones—and rather than requiring you to switch between devices, making it all available through simple requests; and it's all synced and updated in real-time as contents change on the devices, GM claims.

On the entertainment side, CUE will also be the first automotive interface to incorporate a fully compatible Blu-Ray player.

It's worth noting that when Cadillac began the project of developing CUE, about three and a half years ago, iPhones were just out, and iPads and Android devices didn't yet exist. The company placed some bets on gesture-based technology when it was not yet the norm, and that's clearly paid off.

In addition to the very advanced screen and interface, the system has a processor that's altogether more than three times faster than that used in previous systems from the automaker; its high-speed bus is also, at 50 Mbps, twice as fast as the nearest competitor, which GM did not name. On the software side, the system employs the type of 3D modeling from video games, and it's built on linux, with an open-source foundation.

GM also says that it's tested the system's touch screen down to -40 degrees C, and it's engineered to last the life of the vehicle. It will also work while wearing gloves up to five millimeters thick, we were told.

GM CUE interface - 2013 Cadillac XTS

GM CUE interface - 2013 Cadillac XTS

One go-to point when you're juggling devices


But like MyFord Touch, CuE combines media connectivity, calling functions, and infotainment, with integrated navigation—including Bluetooth connectivity to up to ten devices. Up to ten smartphones can be paired via Bluetooth, and the system can interact with up to two simultaneously (sending a pre-formatted text reply from one while chatting on another, for instance). That's in addition to USB and SD interfaces.

“Consumers are juggling Blackberries, Androids, iPhones, and they're seeking an ever-greater level of integration and sophistication in the convenience and delivery of all that content,” said Cadillac VP Don Butler, in a keynote address at the CTIA conference in San Diego earlier this week, where CUE was introduced. “It's no surprise that they want that convenience extended into their vehicles, where they may spend hours every day.”

A step ahead of MyFord Touch, others

MyLincoln Touch - 2011 Lincoln MKX

MyLincoln Touch - 2011 Lincoln MKX

Ford arguably made the first attempt to simplify and connect phones and media devices, with the introduction of its Sync interface about five years ago. MyLincoln Touch and MyFord Touch, introduced this past year, take that a big step forward with a high-contrast, screen-based interface—albeit without the fully capacitive touch screen, gesture recognition, and simplified menus of CUE.

BlueLink, offered in Hyundai models, is much like GM's OnStar and relies on operator assistance, and for some advanced tasks can actually operate as an advanced voice-activated voice agent. Lexus has also followed that path, including some concierge services in its Enform system.

General Motors was the first company to intersect the automotive and wireless industries in 1995, with the creation of OnStar (first offered in the Cadillac STS), originally a security and roadside security service that's grown into a suite of concierge features. GM sees OnStar continuing alongside CUE.

Meanwhile, Toyota's Entune is more like Ford's Sync, aimed at managing information and entertainment through connected devices. Then there are simpler interfaces, such as Mitsubishi's FUSE, that allow media control but with more rudimentary voice controls and a more basic interface.

German luxury automakers have largely resisted touch screens, and maintain different ways of accessing media and information. Audi's MMI interface is now perhaps the most advanced, offering a so-called MMI Touch pad that lets you trace individual characters, while BMW's iDrive and Mercedes-Benz's COMAND are both more intuitive than before but still rely heavily on your understanding (and memorization) of their sometimes-perplexing memory structures.

Are capacitative touch screens, like that featured in CUE, on the way for other such systems? You bet. But we also anticipate that not all automakers will migrate to them.

While the shape and format of interfaces farther off in the future will likely be subject to regulation or results of distraction studies, in the meantime it appears that automotive interfaces will be information hubs that collect information, media, and connectivity from our personal devices and combine them with screen and voice controls that might feel a bit familiar.

And that iPad-like familiarity might actually help keep more people focused on the real task at hand: driving.

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