Auto Manifesto

January 7, 2008

GM to Announce Driverless Cars Within A Decade?

Time will tell if it’s premature PR-spin but the web is abuzz today with word that GM CEO Rick Wagoner is going to announce tomorrow that GM will begin to put driverless cars on the road within a decade. A bunch of blogs are saying it. Here’s the scoop at Autoblog.

As explained in a previous post, I totally believe driverless cars for transportation is inevitable. A decade time frame is much too soon though. The reason is because it’s not just a matter of building the cars that can do it.

The road infrastructure has to be there and that’s not going to change as quickly. Cars will not be able to drive themselves on every road and in all conditions safely enough for them to be deployed in large numbers until the infrastructure is “networked” and the communication between vehicles and roads is proven.

Maybe it will happen first in another country, one with fewer roads, fewer cars, and a more cohesive highway policy. Maybe it will happen in limited geographic areas (see my next post). But for these changes to take place and then be proven enough within a decade for cars to drive themselves? That would be one hell of an accomplishment – especially in light of the current state of US automobile manufacturers. I wouldn’t bet on it.

The Lexus LS460 and (Japanese-market) Toyota Prius being able to parallel park themselves was the first step. Then we’re likely going to go through phases with limited deployment in a few areas and have cars for a time that have two modes, one where they can drive themselves and another where they can still be driven, albeit with varying levels of electronic assistance for safety reasons. And those vehicles will be able to drive themselves in those deployment areas.

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