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GM Says Driverless Cars Will Be Ready By 2018 646

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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  • who cares (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @05:12PM (#21960174)
    this has the same problems as a non gasoline/diesel fuel source: lack of infrastructure. Who's going to pay for antennas every quarter mile for our trazillion mile highway network?
  • 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 [] 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.

  • ...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. ;)

  • by cstdenis ( 1118589 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @05:24PM (#21960426)
    ... 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:Too bad... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by UbuntuDupe ( 970646 ) * on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @05:27PM (#21960480) Journal
    If by "world", you mean GM, yes it will end before then.

    Open your eyes, folks: Here's [] GM's financials. Notice how most of the numbers are useless since they weren't designed for handling negative numbers. It's trading at $23, after last year's *per share* loss of $65. If Google dropped 90%, it would still be worth 50% more than GM.

    It's even trying to pay a dividend (!) while suffering massive legacy costs that its foreigners don't have, or properly funded.

    Q: What do you do if you know how to program a driverless car?
    A: Work for a car company that can pay you WITHOUT deducting from your pay to cover the pensions of millions of people you've never met.
  • 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 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.
  • 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 Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @05:46PM (#21960816)
    But why in the civilized world would anyone need a driverless car? There's no shortage of people who would be happy to have a job driving for you if you don't drive.

    Have you SEEN the drivers on the roads these days? We're definitely too stupid as a race to be driving cars. At a 30 second green light, if it takes 1 second per car to start moving, being 30 cars back means you don't start moving until the light turns red.

    Driverless interconnected cars ALL start moving when the light turns green(saving gas, time, and easing congestion due to efficient driving). Some kid jumps out into the street, ALL cars hit the brakes when the first one stops(saving lives, cars, and insurance premiums).
  • Re:Culpability (Score:3, Interesting)

    by roman_mir ( 125474 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @06:22PM (#21961438) Homepage Journal
    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 wrong, this is not about just the cars, it is about the entire infrastructure. Imagine a railroad controlled by the central systems and even then trains crash into each other. Now imagine cars controled by many systems, interracting with each other, interracting with the dynamic road signs, trying to avoid people crossing the road, dogs, birds, big stones any ubnormal obstacles, trying not to kill the pedestrians, bicycle riders, rollerbladers, snow banks, icy road, train trucks, deers, whatever.

    This is not trivial.
  • Re:Right... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by roman_mir ( 125474 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @06:26PM (#21961490) Homepage Journal
    Well, there is no need for traffic lights if all cars are robots. Of-course the humans have to cross, but this can be done with overpasses or tunnels under the streets.
    Once cars can really drive themselves, they should be in contact with other cars, road signs and such to maintain the best traffic conditions possible.
    There will be no real reason for stop signs, traffic lights, speed limits, yield signs and such, all of this can be avoided once cars are driving themselves.

    Of-course this requires an overhaul of the infrastructure and assumes all cars are driverless and communicating with each other, the road signs and such and that there are no others (pedestrians/animals/other obstacles) on the roads.
  • by MOBE2001 ( 263700 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @06:30PM (#21961586) Homepage Journal

    The only way I would trust this with my life is if EVERY car was controlled.

    I agree. The advent of automated transportation is an oppostunity for big cities to ban all private vehicles altogether. Cities should purchase a whole fleet of self-driving vehicles, depending on their needs, and park them on the streets. City dwellers and visitors would then be given a wireless, GPS-enabled beeper to summons a vehicle when needed, at which time the nearest free vehicle would drive itself to the customer's location and take them to their destination. Car-pooling could be enforced, if necessary. There are already way too many cars as it is. Most of them are sitting idle at any given time. So, in that sense, self-driving vehicles may not be a good thing for the car manufacturers because it may lead to a drastic reduction in demand if a lot of congested cities adopt this plan.
  • Re:Good (Score:3, Interesting)

    by powerlord ( 28156 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @06:47PM (#21961844) Journal
    Destroying the car isn't against that law. ... just driving it at speeds >60MPH.

    Also, all of the episodes I've seen have them driving the car by Remote control.

    Depending on how its interpreted "Remote Control Driver" != "Driverless Car"
  • by dotwaffle ( 610149 ) <> 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 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.
  • Re:Good (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Unoti ( 731964 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @09:49PM (#21963890) Journal

    I would gladly give up if it meant not sitting in traffic for hours

    If you're truly willing to give things up, then you can have what you want. Figure out a way to get a job where you can work from home. Sell the car. Move somewhere with really cheap housing where you can walk to the grocery store. It sounds like I'm being glib, but I'm dead serious. Do it.

    I did it. My wife and I both took 50% pay cuts to find work at home jobs. We sold one car and used it to pay off the other. We fill up our remaining car about once every 2 months or so. We had many expenses before that we no longer have, including about $150 USD/mo in toll roads and about $250 USD/mo in gas, and our car insurance is super cheap now with 1 car fully paid off instead of 2 cars. Plus, we both recovered about 2 hours per day each on commute times, which we now use to enjoy our happier less stressful lives.

    Seriously-- if you're honestly willing to make sacrifices to not sit in traffic, then do it. You're in charge of your life, right?

  • Re:Good (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Dan541 ( 1032000 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @11:17PM (#21964558) Homepage

    You forgot....

    No need to pay attention to the road -- but those who like to drive could still offroad, go to tracks, etc.

    I fully support your right to go have fun driving your vehicle if that's what floats your boat. You don't, however, have a fundamental right to use something constructed by lots of my taxpayer dollars (the public road system) as your personal playground and put me in unnecessary risk while on it. In such a future, if you wanted to drive for fun, you could easily go drive somewhere that's for people who want to drive for fun; however, our tax dollars weren't collected to build you a racetrack.
    Excuse me but I pay a fortune to use the roads and should have the right to spend my normal 30-40 hours a week on the roads I paid for without inexpirienced idiots putting me in danger.

    The people who cause most accidents arnt truck drivers, taxis or couriers.

    Its the person driving to the shops for their weekly shopping or picking their kids of from school that pull out in front of other vehicles on the highway or stall at the lights. These people often spend less than 20hours a week on the road and dont drive outside of their local area and so are inexpirienced road users.

    I have a right to be safe on the road withouut idiots putting me in danger because they cant make rational judgements.

  • Re:Good (Score:2, Interesting)

    by adolf ( 21054 ) <> on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @01:16AM (#21965260) Journal

    I think we have a difference of fact, here.

    You seem to indicate that your tax dollars are for making roads for the sole purpose of efficient and safe transportation.

    Meanwhile, my own tax dollars are certainly in support of roads which allow independant (and perhaps destinationless) ambulation, whether for fun or for any other purpose.

    I know I've certainly been sitting around on a lazy summer evening and decided to go for a nice drive in the country with my wife, even going so far as to drive in a random direction to see what there is to uncover, several times even making a whole weekend out of the randomness of it. There's lots of great things out there to discover which a computer-controlled car will never find.

    I know it seems crazy/insane/unbelievable, but the vast majority of people in this country don't want the government funding things with taxpayer dollars merely for the efficiency of "some people". Especially when doing so eliminates a laundry list of enjoyable benefits to the country at large.

    And I must ask: What do you suppose the meaning of life is, if not to enjoy our time here on this rock?

    I mean, we're not just fucking ants or honeybees here, but real human beings. We have other needs beyond being productive, and I submit that most people would feel that a certain amount of entertainment is needed in life.

    And, since you've made this personal by belittling one of my own small joys, please allow me to do the same: I suspect that you enjoy spending your days finding new and more efficient methods with which to conduct yourself. I also suspect that either you are very lonely, or if you are married, that your wife is (perhaps secretly).

    I eagerly await your retort.

"Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." -- Will Rogers