Friday, 12 January 2018

GM will launch robocars without steering wheels next year

quote [ AFTER MORE THAN a century making vehicles for humans to drive, General Motors has ripped the heart out of its latest ride, and is now holding the grisly spectacle up for all the world to see: A car with no steering wheel. And it plans to put a fleet of these newfangled things to work in a taxi-like service, somewhere in the US, next year. ]

I'm ready. I would love to be able to work on my laptop, use vr, or read a book while my car drives me to my destination. While it does say it will launch next year, they still have to get around the law requiring steering wheels in all cars.

AFTER MORE THAN a century making vehicles for humans to drive, General Motors has ripped the heart out of its latest ride, and is now holding the grisly spectacle up for all the world to see: A car with no steering wheel. And it plans to put a fleet of these newfangled things to work in a taxi-like service, somewhere in the US, next year.

And no, this robo-chariot, a modified all-electric Chevrolet Bolt, doesn't have pedals either. This is GM's truly driverless debut, a car that will have to handle the world on its own. No matter what happens, you, dear human passenger, cannot help it now.

Terrifying? Maybe. But it's also a major step in GM’s aggressive bid to maintain its big dog status as the auto industry evolves away from individual ownership and flesh-and-blood drivers. And it’s just the beginning for the Detroit stalwart. “We’ve put together four generations of autonomous vehicles over the course of 18 months,” says Dan Ammann, GM’s president. “You can safely assume that the fourth generation won’t be the last.”

While Waymo, Uber, and others in this space are building webs of partnerships to deploy their autonomous tech, GM is going for vertical integration. It spent a reported $600 million on Cruise Automation, and put the San Francisco–based startup in charge of its effort to develop fully autonomous vehicles. It bought its own lidar manufacturer: Strobe, a Pasadena-based outfit GM thinks could cut sensor costs (a big problem, especially for lidar) by 99 percent.

To lay the foundation for a business that doesn’t rely on selling cars to people, it launched a car-sharing service called Maven. And it has flexed its manufacturing muscles (perhaps its biggest advantage coming in), configuring its Orion assembly plant north of Detroit to build this latest generation of robocar. Indeed, GM is counting on its manufacturing prowess to give it an edge in this new world. “Either you can do that or you don’t have a business,” says Kyle Vogt, who founded and heads Cruise.

And yes, now is the time for this autonomy stuff to really become a business. The technology has made massive leaps in recent years, and not just chez Cruise: Waymo, which started as Google's self-driving car, plans to deploy similarly driverless cars in the next few months. These systems aren't perfect, and they won't work everywhere or all the time. But the companies behind them are ready to press ahead.

Of course, dropping the steering wheel gets tricky when you consider federal regulations that require things like steering wheels. So GM has officially asked the federal Department of Transportation to exempt these vehicles from certain parts of the rules that govern automotive safety. Because those were written for human-driven cars, they include requirements like a foot-activated brake pedal and an airbag built into the steering wheel.

In an age where cars won’t need any kind of pedals or steering wheels, those don’t quite make sense. They’re “almost illogical or missing a predicate when there is an artificial intelligence, a computer driver,” says Paul Hemmersbaugh, GM’s policy director for autonomous vehicles. Pending legislation would let the feds grant up to 100,000 such exemptions a year for each manufacturer, up from the current 2,500. Good thing, because there's no serious movement to rewrite the rulebook.

The federal government in general is all for autonomous vehicles, and usually grants such exemptions, so that’s one of the easy bits. Harder is finding the right spot to launch this system. Vogt wouldn’t offer any clues (nor would he say how many cars will make up the fleet), but you can put your money on one of the states that have expressly welcomed self-driving tech without much in the way of rules. California, where companies must publicly report crashes and other data, seems less inviting here than a state like Arizona, which doesn’t put any special restrictions on robocars. Plus, the weather in Phoenix is good year round (minus the occasional haboob), and the driving environment is far simpler than a place like San Francisco, where Cruise does the bulk of its testing.

The real tough part, however, will be accounting for the wildcard: the human passenger. In the past century, GM’s relationships with its customers more or less ended when the dealer handed over the keys. It never had to think much about how people behaved inside its vehicles. Now it does. Vogt says his team has considered how to account for all sorts of annoying human habits. If the rider doesn’t close the door after walking away, the car can do that itself. But plenty of questions—like what the car should do if it can’t safely and legally pull over near its passenger’s pickup or drop off point—remain.

To handle riders who demand a human touch, and to do things like call emergency services in case of a crash, GM will rely on its in-vehicle OnStar system. And, as an early test for a rideshare system, GM built an app with which Cruise employees can call robocars for free rides around San Francisco. It’s a logical start, but challenges will emerge that engineers and human factors specialists would never think to consider.

The old-school behemoth had better remain flexible enough to navigate them—steering wheel or no.
[SFW] [science & technology] [+7 laz0r]
[by Mythtyn@5:01pmGMT]


mechanical contrivance said @ 5:53pm GMT on 12th Jan [Score:1 Insightful]
Every time traffic slows down for no apparent reason, I get impatient for self driving cars to become common.
lilmookieesquire said @ 7:43pm GMT on 12th Jan [Score:1 Insightful]
It truely is an automobile now.
hellboy said @ 8:11pm GMT on 12th Jan [Score:1 Good]
They should put a little mechanical Turk on the dashboard.
midden said @ 9:54pm GMT on 12th Jan [Score:1 Good]
Except the Mechanical Turk actually had a human inside, driving it.
ComposerNate said @ 9:33pm GMT on 12th Jan [Score:1 laz0r]
Truly we are living in an age of wonder
conception said @ 5:33pm GMT on 12th Jan
Hell yes. Can't wait.
midden said @ 9:57pm GMT on 12th Jan
dolemite said @ 7:10pm GMT on 12th Jan
I love the whole concept of self-driving cars and I'm fine with removing the steering wheel. I'm interested in people's thoughts on this part though; should they keep the brake pedal?

Would these cars, and the road system overall, be safer with a manual emergency brake or safer without human-operated brakes at all?
HoZay said @ 7:37pm GMT on 12th Jan [Score:1 Funsightful]
Wouldn't you start tapping that brake, just to see what happens? I know I would. Teenage me just loooooved to see what all you could make a car do just by trying stuff out. I'll bet those self-driving cars can be made to drift.
Mythtyn said[1] @ 8:23pm GMT on 12th Jan
I would think an emergency brake button would be needed.
Ussmak said @ 9:06pm GMT on 14th Jan
Braking can be dangerous as fuck with no way to manipulate the wheels if it's on even a slightly slick surface.

There's lots of good reasons why people who drive all the time are very VERY slow to trust anything 'self-driving.'

Hell, I won't even let certain family members drive for me.
raphael_the_turtle said @ 7:41pm GMT on 12th Jan
So how many years before the bottom falls out? Ridesharing hits hyper-growth
hellboy said @ 8:08pm GMT on 12th Jan
Never buy version 1.0. I'll wait until all the bugs have been ironed out by the "beta testers".
dolemite said @ 9:11pm GMT on 12th Jan
Interesting thought. Will beta-testers become the new test pilots? Will beta-tester funerals become a familiar occurrence?
midden said[1] @ 9:57pm GMT on 12th Jan
Mythtyn said @ 10:06pm GMT on 12th Jan
midden said @ 10:22pm GMT on 12th Jan
spaceloaf said @ 10:40pm GMT on 12th Jan
On one hand, I'm super hyped for self-driving cars. On the other hand, I'm not sure if I trust GM engineering to be the pioneers for this.

(My parents worked for GM, and I interned there myself so I have plenty of first-hand horror stories about how poorly that company is run...)
foobar said @ 3:03am GMT on 13th Jan
I can't wait for these, but I think the rideshare thing is going to be a niche business. Right now the market for that is pretty much one of two things: out of towners, or people who are or plan to shortly be drunk. The latter will be able to use their personal vehicle, once it's capable of driving itself.
mwooody said @ 3:39pm GMT on 13th Jan
I'm genuinely confused about the lack of a wheel. What happens if there's, say, a horrible storm unexpectedly and the road is unrecognizable? Or a truck pushes your car in to a field, and you need to drive out of it? Are there manual controls hidden somewhere?
Mythtyn said @ 1:19am GMT on 14th Jan
No gas pedal or brake pedal either.
Ussmak said @ 9:02pm GMT on 14th Jan
Then it's already doomed to fail. Governmental bodies and small corporate towns might make use of them, but for most people, no manual backup is going to be a big turn off.

I know I won't buy a car if I don't have the option of controlling it how I want when I want.
HoZay said @ 12:05am GMT on 15th Jan
I'm sure it will be mostly fleet lease.
Mythtyn said @ 1:05am GMT on 15th Jan
I'm sure there will have to be some type of override, but no reason it can't be on a touch screen in some manner.

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