Are fully autonomous cars just around the corner? The family car has always been a testing ground for new and unique technologies. From in-car CD players to heated and cooled seats, tech has always been part of what we like about buying a new car. Features we now take for granted — such as anti-lock brakes, voice control of a car’s interior functions and remote vehicle starting — are all fairly commonplace when it comes to new cars.
But what’s the next step in personal transportation? There are certainly a few buzzwords that seem to arise whenever this topic comes up. Lately, the idea of self-driving or autonomous cars is a recurring theme, despite any perceived setbacks due to a recent Tesla Model S accident that killed the driver.
Many cars already have semi-self-driving features available. Adaptive cruise control is a great example: It works like traditional cruise control but “sees” the car ahead and matches its speed. On some cars, that means the car can handle stop-and-go traffic on its own — all the driver has to do is steer. Clearly, in-car technology is moving even beyond that to a point where the car will ultimately drive itself in certain circumstances.
Rather than simply speculate, we decided to go right to the source and ask carmakers how they see the future of personal transportation and what they’re working on today that will impact our lives in the future.
Kevin Kelly, senior manager of global advanced technology communications at General Motors, provided answers to these questions:
1. There’s a lot of talk about self-driving or autonomous cars. What’s behind this, and are consumers really looking for cars that drive themselves?
“Consumers are always looking for ways to improve safety and convenience. We think that semi- and fully autonomous technologies will be beneficial on both fronts. We’ll launch our semi-autonomous Super Cruise technology next year on the Cadillac CT6. Super Cruise enables hands-free driving on highways, which will make commuting and long-distance travel more enjoyable and safe.”
2. There also seems to be a relationship between self-driving cars and vehicle-sharing or ride-sharing services. What is the endgame of these relationships, and how is it important to the average consumer?
“GM is committed to launching our fully autonomous technology first in an on-demand ride-sharing network. We think using a shared network to launch this technology will help to improve familiarity with self-driving systems, as well as provide the data that will prove the safety of the technology.”
3. Autotrader conducted a recent study about autonomous vehicles, which told us that 65 percent of Generation Z respondents say “lack of trust in technology to work” is a barrier. How do you convince this young generation to trust in your emerging technology?
“By allowing customers to experience the technology through an on-demand autonomous ride-sharing network, we think we’ll help to alleviate some of the initial concern.”
4. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) mandated that all new vehicles have backup cameras by 2018. What does GM think is the next big advancement in safety technology, and are self-driving cars a part of that?
“We do think that self-driving cars have the potential to greatly improve vehicle safety. According to the NHTSA, 94 percent of vehicle crashes are the result of poor human choices or errors. The use of self-driving technology has the potential to significantly reduce vehicle crashes in the future.”
Is it likely that the average consumer will be able to buy a car that fully drives itself next month? Probably not, but what seems more likely is a car (such as the Cadillac CT6) that can drive itself in certain circumstances (crawling, urban traffic) and then have you assume control whenever the circumstances are too complex — or simply whenever you decide to do so. Although it sounds counterintuitive, this kind of shared responsibility might actually make driving more fun in the long run.