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by Tim Beissmann

General Motors says it will be producing cars that partially drive themselves by the middle of the decade and will develop self-driving vehicles by 2020.

The announcement is a bold statement from GM, and a clear signal of its intention to be a leader in the production of autonomous cars. It follows last week’s unveiling of the second-generation Chevrolet EN-V concept – a vehicle with the ability to drop off its driver, park itself, and then pick up its driver via smartphone commands.

GM vice president of global research and development, Alan Taub, predicted advances in autonomous vehicle technology would bring driverless cars closer to reality than many motorist could believe.

Mr Taub said the radars, sensors, cameras, GPS and portable communication devices in cars of the future would interact with each other and the vehicle’s computer system to take control of the driving, leaving the driver to concentrate on other things.

“The technologies we’re developing will provide an added convenience by partially or even completely taking over the driving duties,” he said. “The primary goal, though, is safety. Future generation safety systems will eliminate the crash altogether by interceding on behalf of drivers before they’re even aware of a hazardous situation.”

GM is developing a number of systems for its upcoming vehicles. The 2012 GMC Terrain features an industry-first front-mounted camera designed to help drivers avoid front-end and lane-departure crashes.

Other systems include vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication systems designed to uses a car’s surroundings to warn the driver of possible safety hazards.

“In the coming years, we believe the industry will experience a dramatic leap in active safety systems, and, hopefully, a dramatic decline in injuries and fatalities on our roadways,” Mr Taub said.

“GM has made a commitment to be at the forefront of this development.”

Do you think your car will be driving you around in less than 10 years’ time? Would you be happy to hand over the controls to a clever computer and a bunch of cameras and sensors? Let us know in the comments section below.