Cadillac introduces innovative CUE system

Carmakers have been racing to bring our connected lifestyle to the automobile. As more features and capabilities are added to our phones and other devices, consumers want the same functionality available to them in their cars.

This poses challenges, however, as carmakers naturally need to consider safety when deciding which features are appropriate for drivers and how they can be accessed while driving. Additionally, long lead times and engineering constraints make the addition of new features even more challenging. You can add features, but you need to be conscious of the overall driving experience.

Last week Cadillac introduced their new CUE service to the media in San Diego and we were invited to attend. CUE which stands for Cadillac User Experience, and the CUE team had a fully-functional test system available to us. Based on what we saw, CUE represents a great leap forward in the race to bring the digital lifestyle to the automobile. New innovations like tactile feedback on your finger when you touch the 8-inch center stack screen and proximity sensing that has control buttons pop up on the screen as you hand approaches make this system very user friendly, and the customization features make CUE a very powerful system that greatly enhances the driver experience.

The industry-first proximity sensing feature was the most impressive innovation. The CUE team wanted the screen layout to be clean and uncluttered so that the driver would only see the information the driver needs at a particular time. They didn’t want to clutter the screen with unnecessary icons for example while the driver was in the navigation system or the media area. On the other hand, you want to have all important options available in the form of icons without putting more buttons on the center console. The solution they came up with was proximity sensing. Additional icons to carry out commands, including your favorite presets and the controls for the app you’re in would show up in two bands across the bottom of the screen as your hand approaches the screen, and then the icons go away as your hand pulls back. You can see examples of the icons in photos #1 and #5 above. With this innovation, drivers get the best of both worlds – an uncluttered screen and multiple options when needed.

The customization features make CUE very powerful and easy to use. The most frequently used applications like your nav, phone and radio are available along the top of every screen in the system in an “app tray.” This app tray can then be customized, as users can drag any icon from the home page to the top of the screen. You can also set up to 60 presets and they can be from any app. The first six will show up along the bottom bar when your hand approaches (you swipe the screen to see the rest), and they can include your favorite radio stations or Pandora stations, favorite playlists and nav routes like Home. You can set a preset at any time, but customization and altering the order can only be done when you are parked. The key here is that you can avoid going through menus every day and have your most commonly used apps and services in your favorites. You can also set your screen to display 15 favorites at once. The result is also fewer buttons on the center stack, as only critical commands are needed offering a much simpler and elegant arrangement.

The CUE system goes beyond the center stack, however, to include the gauge cluster immediately in front of the steering wheel. The 12.3-inch reconfigurable LCD gauge cluster will be available on select models and can be customized into one of four screen layouts, with information options including traditional vehicle data such as readouts for fuel levels and speed along with navigation, phone and entertainment information. The ability to put navigation information in this gauge area is my favorite feature, as you don’t need to turn your head at all to visually follow the instructions.

These features are just some of the capabilities built into CUE. The center stack display works like today’s smart phones with swiping capability to move around the icons, and Cadillac developed a natural speech recognition system (which we couldn’t realistically test here). I also liked the single line destination entry for navigation.

CUE will debut in 2012 in the Cadillac XTS and ATS luxury sedans and SRX luxury crossover and will be presented at the 2011 LA Auto Show. The technology and media experiences are becoming critical factors for consumers, and CUE looks like it can be a huge hit for Cadillac.