By Contributing Editor, Tony Gauntner
Who would have ever dreamed that every media outlet would be featuring legitimate automotive news stories day after day? Telling us that our automobiles, the mainstay of our daily lives, will have the ability to transport us to our desired location without a driver? Check the calendar, is it April 1st? Or, am I reading this on the Onion’s website? Nope, check out Bloomberg Businessweek’s November 8, 2015 cover story: “Driverless Cars Are Closer Than They Appear.” Its journalist, Keith Naughton opined “Even General Motors thinks the age of autonomous cars is inevitable.”
Revolution of an Evolution
We are knocking on the door of “a revolution of an evolution” as technology transforms transportation. The technology to accomplish this task is now with us. Self-parking vehicles have been with us for several years–as has lane departure warning systems, adaptive cruise control, and collision avoidance technology. This might sound really Steven Speilberg-ish or James Cameron-ish, but it’s real right now. In rural Michigan on clandestine proving grounds, engineers are diligently working to pair the technology that will allow drivers to secede control to the car. “It will also, if all goes according to plan, propel GM (and others too) into a multibillion-dollar race for the future of human mobility” says Bloomberg’s Naughton.
The Race Is On
Yes the race is on. Elon Musk has just begun offering autopilot on his Tesla Model S. Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi and Volvo have similar hands free driving in the works. Actually, every major auto manufacturer has employees and their base of suppliers designated to develop these systems. Volvo recently announced they will assume full liability for any collision deemed to be caused by a defective autonomous system on one of their vehicles. That’s a bold statement to make so early on isn’t it? Perhaps Volvo, who built their reputation based on safety, intends to differentiate from others, by easing the minds of consumers, should a collision occur.
While most manufacturers’ strategy appears to call for a phase-in approach of these various systems, Google, one of Silicon Valley’s superstars in everything tech, intends on taking the “all-in” approach. Should bureaucrats sign off, their vehicles will be sans steering wheel and gas pedal—if and when they are cleared for takeoff. Their small bulb-shaped Googlemobiles (manufactured by Michigan’s Roush Industries) have been cruising the Valley and select locations in autonomous and semi-autonomous test mode for several years.
Apple’s also in the game. R&D for a self-driving electric car codenamed Project Titan has, as in typical Apple fashion, been progressing in total anonymity. In May, Apple Senior VP Jeff Williams acknowledged the program and referred to the car as “the ultimate mobile device.” The company has been hiring automotive talent from Mercedes-Benz, Tesla, Hyundai and electric car battery maker A123 Systems. And plenty more will follow.
I leave you to ponder today’s motivational quote :
“Man cannot discover new oceans
unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” — Andre Gide
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