Cars that drive themselves — even parking at their destination — could
be ready for sale within a decade, General Motors Corp. executives say. This ties in closely with the DaVinci Institute predictions on the future of the automobile industry.
GM, parts suppliers, university engineers and other automakers all
are working on vehicles that could revolutionize short- and
long-distance travel. And Tuesday at the Consumer Electronics Show in
Las Vegas GM Chief Executive Rick Wagoner will devote part of his
speech to the driverless vehicles.
"This is not science fiction," Larry Burns, GM’s vice president for research and development, said in a recent interview.
most significant obstacles facing the vehicles could be human rather
than technical: government regulation, liability laws, privacy concerns
and people’s passion for the automobile and the control it gives them.
of the technology already exists for vehicles to take the wheel:
radar-based cruise control, motion sensors, lane-change warning
devices, electronic stability control and satellite-based digital
mapping. And automated vehicles could dramatically improve life on the
road, reducing crashes and congestion.
If people are interested.
the question is what does society want to do with it?" Burns said.
"You’re looking at these issues of congestion, safety, energy and
emissions. Technically there should be no reason why we can’t transfer
to a totally different world."
GM plans to use an inexpensive
computer chip and an antenna to link vehicles equipped with driverless
technologies. The first use likely would be on highways; people would
have the option to choose a driverless mode while they still would
control the vehicle on local streets, Burns said.
He said the company plans to test driverless car technology by 2015 and have cars on the road around 2018.
Thrun, co-leader of the Stanford University team that finished second
among six teams completing a 60-mile Pentagon-sponsored race of
driverless cars in November, said GM’s goal is technically attainable.
But he said he wasn’t confident cars would appear in showrooms within a
"There’s some very fundamental, basic regulations in the
way of that vision in many countries," said Thrun, a professor of
computer science and electrical engineering.
Department contest, which initially involved 35 teams, showed the
technology isn’t ready for prime time. One team was eliminated after
its vehicle nearly charged into a building, while another vehicle
mysteriously pulled into a house’s carport and parked itself.
said a key benefit of the technology eventually will be safer roads and
reducing the roughly 42,000 U.S. traffic deaths that occur annually —
95 percent of which he said are caused by human mistakes.
might be able to cut those numbers down by a factor of 50 percent,"
Thrun said. "Just imagine all the funerals that won’t take place."
challenges include updating vehicle codes and figuring out who would be
liable in a crash and how to cope with blown tires or obstacles in the
road. But the systems could be developed to tell motorists about road
conditions, warn of crashes or stopped vehicles ahead and prevent
collisions in intersections.
Later versions of driverless
technology could reduce jams by directing vehicles to space themselves
close together, almost as if they were cars in a train, and maximize
the use of space on a freeway, he said.
"It will really change society, very much like the transition from a horse to a car," Thrun said.
U.S. government has pushed technology to help drivers avoid crashes,
most notably electronic stability controls that help prevent rollovers.
The systems are required on new passenger vehicles starting with the
2012 model year.
Vehicle-to-vehicle communication and technology allowing cars to talk with highway systems could come next.
in debate are how to address drivers’ privacy, whether current vehicles
can be retrofitted and how many vehicles would be need the systems to
develop an effective network.
"Where it shakes out remains to be
seen but there is no question we see a lot of potential there," said
Rae Tyson, a spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety