This is NOT so far off, space-age concept! General Motors has recently filed a Safety Petition the US Department of Transportation seeking permission to remove the manual controls that have been a part of motor vehicles since their invention. The automaker reports that they have the ability to build a fully autonomous car on a production line right now and approval from the Federal Government to go forward. GM’s Cruise Automation unit has announced plans to carry passengers in self-driving cars that won’t have a back-up driver starting in 2019.
While a number of companies have been testing self-driving cars on public roads around the country in recent years (Google’s Waymo and UBER come readily to mind), this is a first in a coming wave of such petitions as the technology comes to maturity. UBER has recently placed a 24,000 unit order with Volvo to produce self-driving vehicles. First deliveries of these units are slated for 2019 as well.
In case you were wondering, GM has actually produced an extensive white paper on its approach to fully autonomous vehicles in general and the vehicle they are now calling the Cruise AV (which actually started out as a Bolt EV). The automaker envisions a future with zero crashes, zero emissions and zero traffic congestion. General Motors further goes on the record with stating that it’s the company’s mission to bring this zero-based future to life. From their document: “Safely developing and deploying electric self-driving vehicles at scale will dramatically change our world”.
The fourth-generation Cruise AV was built from the state to operate safely on its own, with no driver. GM engineered safety into the vehicle in every single step of design, development, manufacturing, testing and evaluation. One of the major points to be made is that the Cruise AV is bristling with the kind of redundancy you would find in commercial aircraft. That is not SOME systems, but EVERY system, from propulsion, to sensors, to safety equipment. GM continues, “Our Cruise AV has the potential to provide a level of safety far beyond the capabilities of humans”.
That is a noble goal since according to the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration that 94 percent of crashes involve human error or reaction. Those who monitor the safety aspects of the motor vehicle industry estimate that fully autonomous vehicles when completely introduced into the American mainstream could reduce traffic deaths by 80 percent!
GM’s white paper covers virtually every aspect you could imagine – from how they design a safe vehicle, to how the Cruise AV operates and the level of systems diversity and redundancy that has been incorporated into the vehicle. There is even an Integrated Vehicle Health Monitor to keep track of diagnostics for all self-driving systems and determines the operating state of the vehicle.
For those of you who are concerned about cyber-security, GM has that covered too. The company’s cybersecurity specialists are integrated with the rest of the self-driving development team to build cybersecurity into the Systems Safety engineering process. GM also works with third parties to maintain and advance its cybersecurity capabilities as well as the implementation and advancement of cybersecurity guidelines and standards.
While there will certainly be hiccups along the way, GM has invested considerable finances and talent to bring this self-driving baby to birth. Time will tell.