Science & Technology

General Motors announces plan to produce autonomous cars

On Jan. 12, General Motors Co. announced its plan to produce a driverless car. The car will not have any manual controls, steering wheels, pedals or need for a driver. The car itself will be the fourth generation of the Chevy-Bolt based electric driverless car, the Cruise AV, and GM hopes the cars will go into production by 2019.

Currently, the company is petitioning the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to allow production to go forward, to which the agency replied that they will give the petition careful consideration.

In an interview with The New York Times, Dan Ammann, GM’s president, made a statement about self-driving technology, saying it “is only going to have a big impact if we can deploy it at large scale.”

A challenge that GM will face is obtaining federal approval. A main factor of safety regulations for cars is the fact there is a human driver present, not simply a computer. The company is attempting to prove their technology will maintain the present safety standards without the need for a human driver or a steering wheel in the car.

After obtaining approval on the federal level, GM will face the same problem at state level. Currently, there are only seven states in which the Cruise AV would be able to deploy after getting passed at the federal level.

A major plan for these cars is to allow people to use them as cab services. It is rumored that GM will collaborate with Lyft to put its plan into action.

It is also a possibility that GM will have its own application, similar to Lyft or Uber, in which passengers can request a car. The cars would operate as a fleet and share data throughout a geo-fenced area, working together to provide the service.

The current cab service plan states that when a person enters the vehicle, they will be met with a touchscreen tablet displaying a map that shows the route’s progress.

Before the car starts, every passenger will need to have their seat belts buckled. The car will also need to have all of its doors closed before moving.

In the case that a passenger leaves the car and forgets to close the door, the car can do it by itself. The car will also be equipped with a button in case of unexpected events. If the rider leaves behind any personal items, support staff will contact the driver to arrange a return.

The vehicle will also offer an emergency button, which will have the car pull over to the nearest available spot and drop the customer off when pressed. In case of an accident, the vehicle will assess the damage and send it to OnStar, a GM branch supplying emergency services, which is immediately notified and creates a two way response between the vehicle and help.

GM is not the first company to have the idea of a driverless car. Other companies such as Google and Tesla, Inc., also plan to create cars of this caliber. However, GM would be the first to do so, as the other companies do not plan to launch their models for another few years.

The project has received both praise and controversy. Many people worry that computers have problems and crash often, leading them to have concerns over the car crashing in the middle of a drive. Others fear that the technology in the car could be hacked, having someone else take control of the car. There is, however,  praise toward this idea as well, with supporters stating that this is a major step forward. This progression might also lead to a shift in the decrease of privately owned vehicles, removing the need for them.

Driverless cars are a big step forward for technological innovation, yet the consequences of this step are unclear.

February 5, 2018

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