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GM Says Driverless Cars Will Be Ready By 2018 646

Posted by kdawson
from the look-ma-no-hands dept.
Gregor Stipicic writes "Cars that drive themselves — even parking at their destination — could be ready for sale within a decade, General Motors Corp. executives say. 'This is not science fiction,' Larry Burns, GM's vice president for research and development, said in a recent interview. GM plans to use an inexpensive computer chip and an antenna to link vehicles equipped with driverless technologies. The first use likely would be on highways; people would have the option to choose a driverless mode while they still would control the vehicle on local streets, Burns said. He said the company plans to test driverless car technology by 2015 and have cars on the road around 2018."
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GM Says Driverless Cars Will Be Ready By 2018

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  • Good (Score:4, Funny)

    by _PimpDaddy7_ (415866) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @05:05PM (#21960046)
    I'm sure the AI will drive much better than some of the people on these roads in Boston LOL
    • That, or the Massholes will find a way to take advantage of the driverless mode of other vehicles to make their reckless driving even worse.

      Yes, I am bitter. I drive 128 almost every day.
    • Re:Good (Score:5, Interesting)

      by HTH NE1 (675604) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @05:35PM (#21960666)
      In California, state law prohibits driverless cars from exceeding 60 MPH.

      And you probably thought that was a weird law. California's just ahead of the curve.
    • by inverselimit (900794) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @08:02PM (#21962790)
      I guarantee the number one application in cities will be telling your car to circle so you don't have to find parking. Traffic will get way worse, then this will be outlawed.
  • ... but will they fly?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @05:08PM (#21960086)
      No, the big question is whether General Motors will even exist in 2018.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by truthsearch (249536)
        GM needs to come out with some crazy stuff like this soon because they're failing in their core products. They obviously can no longer compete when it comes to ordinary cars. So they need something extra-ordinary to sell or they won't exist for very long.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Grishnakh (216268)
          GM needs to come out with some crazy stuff like this soon because they're failing in their core products. They obviously can no longer compete when it comes to ordinary cars. So they need something extra-ordinary to sell or they won't exist for very long.

          No, they need to just throw in the towel if they can't compete with their core product, because if they can't even do plain old cars decently, they're certainly not going to succeed at anything more grandiose.

          GM's cars suck, and have sucked for a very long
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by cstdenis (1118589)
      ... but will they run Linux?

      I certainly don't want my car running Windows CE. If it can't keep my phone from crashing cars are out of the question.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by sm62704 (957197)
      but will they fly?

      They might if Microsoft writes the software and they try to exit from the wrong off ramp. There are people dying in flying cars all the time!
    • Flying cars will happen in 2020, or so they say.

      I started collecting a list of things that people have said that should happen on a certain date or year in the future. So far 4 dates on my list have passed and none of them has happened.

      But no worries, because after year 2024 we can wait forever for these to happen: http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=04/12/03/164257&tid=191&tid=14 [slashdot.org]
  • by geminidomino (614729) * on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @05:09PM (#21960100) Journal
    Just imagine the crossover deals this will open up.

    "Drive to Pathmark"

    "Pathmark is overrated. Destination modified to Walmart." *doors lock*
  • I'm pretty sure the encylopedias that my parents had (published in the late 70s) mentioned driverless cars as something coming in the near future. So forgive me if I'm a bit skeptical on this. I still want my flying car!
    • by joggle (594025)

      The technology not only exists for autonomous cars, but have been implemented in various forms already. California made a special HOV lane 10 years ago [wikipedia.org] that allowed specially equipped cars to drive themselves in those lanes close to each other. The project was apparently abandoned due to political pressure, not due to technical reasons.

      There will not be a mass-produced flying car though. That simply requires too much energy and we have a large enough energy problem as it is. Unless you want to use a deri

      • by ScentCone (795499) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @07:22PM (#21962286)
        There will not be a mass-produced flying car though. That simply requires too much energy and we have a large enough energy problem as it is. Unless you want to use a derigible there is drag induced just by the act of flying which causes an additional amount of energy to be consumed as opposed to staying on the ground.

        You don't read enough. There already exists a perfectly good sky car [moller.com]. 20mpg on pure, clean-burning ethanol, and completely safe computerized navigation and flight control. And it's quiet. And it goes well over 200mph, and can take off and land vertically, right in your yard. I can't believe you don't know about this vehicle. It's even red!
  • Too bad... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Iphtashu Fitz (263795) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @05:11PM (#21960146)
    Too bad others have predicted the world will come to an end in 2012.
  • Does this mean... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Radon360 (951529) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @05:12PM (#21960162)

    ...that someone will have to come up with maps that are accurate? I don't mean ones that have pinpoint accuracy on the locations of roads, but thoroughfares with special conditions. I'd hate to riding in a car in autopilot that decided it could turn the wrong way down a one way street because the map data didn't show it.

    • I think the cars can't just rely on map data - they need to "see" as well. That means people, detour signs, construction work, "road closed" etc. There will also probably need to be a standard "local update" system where the road crews can put in a beacon that broadcasts local updated information for the area.

      Of course, security on all this stuff needs to be tight - imagine if some guy hacks his car to spit out messages like "I'm an ambulance, get out of the way!"
      • Imagine if some guy paints his van white and puts flashing lights on top and buys a siren... as for your other point, this will be highway-only at first, which is easy on those long stretches of cross-country highway. I wouldn't expect something to navigate complicated interchange lanes or anything, but it would be nice to hit the "drive control" and have it be able to follow the lines around a shallow turn or hold the car straight while I unwrap my cheeseburger.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @05:12PM (#21960164)
    I haven't driven a GM car in years. So yeah I can see GM cars becoming driverless within my lifetime.
  • by xZgf6xHx2uhoAj9D (1160707) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @05:16PM (#21960228)

    I will remain pseudonymous, but I will say that my current area of research (I am a graduate student) is tangentially related to this field, related enough that I've looked into trying to convince GM to give me funding (so far nothing has materialized). Specifically my research looks deals with programming language design (e.g., making less-than-Turing-complete-but-still-useful programming languages structured in useful ways) to aid in static analysis. The aim is at safety-critical code (nuclear power plant code, industrial controller code, automotive software) such that you can say "barring hardware failure, this code is 100% guaranteed to meet hard realtime constraints", etc.

    Anyway, at least publicly, GM is probably the most impressive car company in terms of researching these sorts of things. I feel kind of bad for GM. I hear they're selling terribly and are even selling at a loss on many cars, but their research department really is something impressive. Maybe they're a little bit Microsoft-ish in that their research department is heavily insulated from the rest of the company, I don't know. But GM is doing a lot of cool stuff and funding a lot of cool stuff with regards to "correct" software.

    If it were some other random company, I would probably roll my eyes and say "oh they'll probably just test it really really heavily and then tell us that it works", but more than most companies, I trust GM to develop cool technology (such as novel static analysis techniques) to get this to work. Their R&D [gm.com] is active in a lot of areas, 99% I'm sure will never amount to anything, but I wouldn't doubt it if they could get the technology together to get auto-driving cars in 10 years.

    Disclaimer: as I mentioned before, my efforts to get GM funding are still unsuccessful, and consequently I'm not on GM payroll in any imaginable way. I don't even drive a GM car (or any car). In fact their cars look kind of lame in general, but their R&D department in Cool.

    • GM's problem: (Score:3, Informative)

      by r_jensen11 (598210)
      GM's problem stems from the fact that they've had since the oil embargos in the 70's to improve their auto's milage. No intelligent person can argue successfully that GM's engines aren't a lot more efficient than they used to be. It's that they've wasted all of these efficiency gains on increasing horsepower to drive heavier cars more quickly.

      GM's had 30 years to bring fuel efficiency & milage to the forefront of their goals. I have no sympathy for its demise.
  • Driverless cars sound nice, but I really want a flying car [theonion.com].
  • .... As I wouldn't want to be in a FORD product running Microsoft Software [syncmyride.com] that could drive itself.
  • Granted, it was only driverless because it was buyerless, but there is prior art here.

  • Just send them out on the road.
  • Culpability (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Stanislav_J (947290) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @05:20PM (#21960342)
    So, when a driverless car runs a red light, who gets the ticket? The owner? The manufacturer? The software company? Hell, they have automated machines that issue red light tickets now, so will one pile of metal and software issue the ticket to the other? Will the machines develop their own monetary system, will driverless cars figure out hacks to avoid the tickets, and will the robot machines have their own jails and prisons? Capital punishment = execution by power surge or by fatal software virus? This smacks too much of a bad Twilight Zone episode.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by roman_mir (125474)
      Listen, if done correctly there will be no need for red lights (at least not for cars,) as they would all be communicating with other cars within some defined radius (1km?) in that case all cars would 'know' what the other cars are doing and the traffic could be controlled in totality thus negating the reason for such implements as the street lights. Of-course road signs would still exist, but they would have to communicate with the cars to control the particular conditions on the road.

      In any case GM is wr
  • Really? (Score:2, Funny)

    by ddrichardson (869910)

    Apparently there'll be a copy of Duke Nukem Forever in the glove box.

  • by Picass0 (147474) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @05:21PM (#21960356) Homepage Journal
    I'm not an attorney (I'm also not an acronym kinda guy) - But it seems by assuming control of the car GM would also be assuming responsibility for the occupants of the vehicle and any other involved in a collision.

    Correct me if I'm wrong.

    It seems to me the only way this technology ever winds up on the road is if the owner of the car signs a waver at the car dealership to hold GM harmless and assume all responsibility for driverless mode accidents.
    • by UbuntuDupe (970646) * on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @05:34PM (#21960622) Journal
      That's a very important point, and I hope more people take note of what you said. The primary barriers to this kind of thing are political, not technological. If I injure or kill someone through my driving, what's the most you could hope to sue me for? Maybe a million dollars. But if the car was self-driving, well hey, that's a company with deep pockets. You could sue me for a lot more!

      Now who can handle the insurance policy on that?

      Then, of course, inane regulation.

      Never mind that these will be safer and less obstructive than 95% of drivers. Never mind that they'll end the problem of drunk driving. Never mind that they will massively increase productivity. Everyone has to get their piece.
      • by nehumanuscrede (624750) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @07:41PM (#21962548)
        All things considered, if the tech works as well as GM is hoping for, then accidents would be
        far, FAR fewer than what we see today. Owning a self-drive capable car might even LOWER your
        insurance payments as you're taking the human out of the equation. Think about what causes most
        accidents. Hardware failure ? Um. . no.

        Usually it's stupidity on the drivers part. Driving too fast, ( or too slow in the wrong lane )
        didn't see the vehicle next to them, drunk, racing, rubbernecking, on the phone, whatever.
        Remove the driver from the equation and 99% of the traffic fatalities will probably go away.

        Once the tech arrives, it would probably take 5-10 years to get the changeover completed. Once
        that happens, most of the accidents and the reasons behind them would vanish. Talk all you wish on
        your phone. Eat your breakfast and rubberneck till you are blue in the face. The computer won't run
        the light, blow the stopsign or try to race the idiot next to you. Freeway traffic will likely be
        self-drive ONLY.

        Hell, they may even RAISE the speed limits. The ones we have now have to factor in the idiot
        equation. Remove the human problem and higher speeds navigated via computer will be just as safe
        ( if not safer ) than the lower ones driven by their flesh and blood counterparts.
        the lower ones.

        With my drive testing the limits of my sanity on a daily basis ( ~80 miles roundtrip to the office
        through the worst traffic Houston has to offer ) I'll be first in line if / when this tech becomes
        available.
    • I can see:

      GM touts driverless car with collision avoidance software
      drunk person slams into car.
      GM gets sued for not avoid the drunk.
  • ...Probably (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SwordsmanLuke (1083699) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @05:22PM (#21960376)
    I work for a company[1] that (among other automation projects) is working on driverless cars. Interestingly, the biggest problems we face are not those of perception (though there's more work to do there as well), but of the cost of the necessary sensors / processing power. We have a car now that can drive up to 70 mph safely (detecting obstacles, other traffic, etc) and we think we can get it up to 100 mph. However, it has a rack of four powerful servers where the back seats used to be and a price tag of over $750,000 - just for parts; labor is extra.

    With the speed with which processing power and sensors become cheaper and more widely available, I think 10 years is definitely attainable. The tech is here, most of the problems are solved, we just have to wait for the price point to come down.

    [1] I was going to put our URL here, but the IT dept will kill me if the servers get /.ed. ;)

    • I'd assume the tech works under ideal driving conditions, but what about the unforseen stuff that comes up in day to day driving? Can the car detect an icy patch on the upcoming corner? Will it swerve violently to avoid an empty cardboard box blowing across the highway? Will it still work around radar jammers? Technically illegal, but I'm willing to bet there's still a fair number of them out there. How stable is the processing unit?

      Personally, I'll believe it when I see it, and even then I think I'll be
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by AK Marc (707885)
        I'd assume the tech works under ideal driving conditions, but what about the unforseen stuff that comes up in day to day driving?

        I'd trust a computer over most drivers. Traffic engineers model traffic off completely unintelligent fluid dynamics. And they have to adjust because humans are less efficient that particles (yes, I'm saying that the average driver is more stupid than a molecule of air). With a computer driving, conditions that require slowing down ahead will result in slowing before you have
  • I'll be 65 (or 66 depending) years old. I hope I don't get the attitude my dad (now 76) has about computers and cell phones, "I lived [n} years without [x] and I don't need one now!"

    His father in law said the same thing about indoor plumbing.

    Are we there yet?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by N3Bruce (154308)

      Actually, a driverless car might be just in time for a lot of the Baby Boomer generation as they get into their 60's and 70's, just as their mounting health problems take their toll on driving skills. Accident rates tend to be lowest for drivers in their 40's and 50's, when mature judgment backed by decades of experience more than compensate for slower reaction times and loss of motor skills they had in their youth. Accident rates start rising again as people get on into their 60's and the effects of decrea
  • "Spam will be a thing of the past in two years' time." Bill Gates in 2004.

    "Nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners will probably be a reality in 10 years." Alex Lewyt, president of vacuum cleaner company Lewyt Corp., in the New York Times in 1955.

    "Read my lips. NO NEW TAXES." George Bush, 1988

    And plenty of others...
  • It's About Time! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pickapeppa (731249) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @05:26PM (#21960474)
    Between texting, eating, putting on makeup, smoking, futzing with the radio, surfing the Internet for the nearest Burger Doodle, and so many other things to do in the car, driving is SUCH a distraction.
  • by bn0p (656911) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @05:26PM (#21960476)
    Even if the technical issues were all resolved (which is not guaranteed by any stretch of the imagination), what about the legal and insurance issues? Until the insurance companies jump on the bandwagon, this will go nowhere.

    It's not like ALL the cars on the road will be driverless. Who is responsible for a crash that occurs while you aren't driving and are reading or asleep (why else would you want a driverless car)?

    They might have better luck putting driverless "taxis" in crowded downtown areas where traffic moves slowly - that would reduce the damage and injuries associated with accidents at higher speeds.


    Never let reality temper imagination
    • by KokorHekkus (986906) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @05:45PM (#21960800)
      I don't think it would work to well in crowded downtown areas either. Imagine a mix of driverless and regular cars. The driverless cars will have to follow a, let's call it, fully legal driving plan. That means not taking chances and allways err on the safe side but that makes them vulnerable to "bullying" from regular drivers that can force the driverless car to yield. They would risk to become more or less a second-class citizen in that traffic. That type of vulnerability would me much smaller outside city traffic.

      But I do agree fully with you that legal/insurance-problem might be the biggest dealbreaker.
  • They're just covering for our illegal Cybertronian immigrants. Stop those Autobot moochers from raising your taxes!
  • You appear to be heading directly for a vulnerable cyclist. What would you like to do?

    1. Run the bastard of the road?
    2. Sideswipe him into a bush?
    3. Scare the crap out of him?
  • by 4D6963 (933028)

    Now where's my driver-less flying car? I mean it, flying cars won't ever get anywhere unless they're "driver-less".

  • by l0ungeb0y (442022) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @05:34PM (#21960630) Homepage Journal
    How many times have heard the story that technology X is only a decade away, then another 10 years later Technology X is ust another decade away?
    In my book, if you an't roll something out within 18 months, it's vapor. Talking about something you think is a decade away is just lip service clearly trying to generate some PR and drve up stock a few cents for the day.
  • ...link vehicles equipped with driverless technologies.
    I can't wait to see how many competing and incompatible standards this industry can come up with..
  • I'm sure designers have taken this all into account, but I'd still be concerned with control systems for pedestrian avoidance, sensors determining whether the small object in front is a newspaper or a rock to be avoided, and predicting behaviors of bicyclists, etc. Sometimes its better to run over a squirrel than break suddenly and risk being rear-ended or swerve around it.
  • This interests me but purely from a technological and safety point of view. I work in aviation, most aircraft have some form of "autopilot" even if it just automatic stabilisation.

    One of the rotary wing aircraft I work on had an analogue system (around 30 years old) that was capable of applying one third of the control required to correct in the time it took a human pilot to notice a percievable change in attitude.

    A growing trend now is to assume that the computer is less likely to make a mistake than a h

  • This means that they'll abandon driverless cars in 2019. Then Toyota will start making them in 2020 and soon make even more money hand over fist. In 2022, GM while ask congress for a bail-out and claim it is "too expensive" to make a driverless car.
  • http://youtube.com/watch?v=vybyj1ETieE [youtube.com] The future is now - BMW seems to be 10 years ahead of GM.
  • A Pontiac Trans Am [wikipedia.org] ... although seeing the new KITT [wikipedia.org] (a modified Ford Shelby Mustang) is certainly w00d-inspiring.
  • by dotwaffle (610149) <slashdot.walster@org> on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @06:58PM (#21962000) Homepage
    Surely, the best way to do it is to get you to the highway, at which point you join a lane (similar to the US carpool lane) that has a weak AM transmitter down the middle. Your car has a couple of sensors on the bottom, to make sure it stays in the middle, and just accelerates to it's highest economy setting.

    Better yet, it could slip behind another cars slipstream and take the energy savings for granted. Half-second gaps between cars, with sensors in front and narrowbeam transmitters on the back to alert for stationary vehicles up ahead. Modulate that AM transmitter, and you've got yourself traffic information to plot a better route, and could be encrypted to prevent mis-use.

    Why hasn't this been done? And if it has (even if a different system than AMRF) why hasn't it been implemented for economy long-distance driving?
  • by themushroom (197365) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @07:14PM (#21962202) Homepage
    Driverless cars by 2018. Like there aren't enough of those out there.

    Slightly better fuel efficiency by 2020, only 30 years after it was first proposed.

    Government actually requiring that cars not be totally dependant upon gasoline, which would be practical? Crystal ball can't see that far ahead.
  • by Loke the Dog (1054294) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @07:16PM (#21962224)
    Come on, what's holding them back? There are already warehouse trucks that drive automatically, avoiding obsticles, making cars do it is only a public awareness campaign away. With Galileo completed in 2013, I'd say thats a perfect year for this too. Maybe not in city streets, but on highways, why not? The technology is already there, we've see articles for years showing how it would work, and we already have cars with parts of these systems.

    Just make the system, prove in some spectacular way how safe it is, and then sell it. I can't wait to see the movies where cars are pushed to their absolute limit to avoid a whole series of accidents, all of it happening too fast for a human to register.

    Obviously, most countries will initially make sure this is illegal, but there will always be some small country that goes the other way just to be different, and the first manufacturer of these cars for that country will get some major publicity.

One of the most overlooked advantages to computers is... If they do foul up, there's no law against whacking them around a little. -- Joe Martin

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