Forget Those Tesla Crashes: GM Says You Can Trust Its Self-Driving Vehicles
General Motors is racing to electrify its vast lineup of vehicles in a concerted bid to overtake Tesla as the world’s top seller of electric vehicles. But it also competes with Tesla on a whole other front: self-driving vehicles.
On that front, GM feels like it has an advantage. Its hands-free advanced driver assistance system, Super Cruise, will double its coverage area to 400,000 miles of highways and roads later this year. Next year, the automaker will unveil the next iteration, Ultra Cruise, which GM says will cover “95%” of driving duties. And its robotaxi division, Cruise, is currently picking up and dropping off passengers in San Francisco as part of the city’s first truly self-driving commercial transit service.
But right now, public perceptions of AVs and driver assistance technology aren’t great. People see the headlines about Tesla’s latest crash, or they remember the woman who was killed by a self-driving Uber in 2017, and they conclude that self-driving vehicles are too dangerous for public use.
That could hurt GM’s efforts to put more self-driving and partially automated vehicles on the road. The company is counting on an education campaign, in addition to media articles, to help consumers understand the differences between a Chevy pickup truck equipped with a Super Cruise, for example, and a fully self-driving Cruise Origin, which is expected to take the road. from next year.
GM President Mark Reuss posted a LinkedIn post today that outlines the automaker’s approach to safety, both with respect to its Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) as well as Super Cruise and Ultra Cruise and its fully standalone projects like Cruise. He also revealed some new details about the technology that will include the Ultra Cruise system, such as a lidar sensor “behind the windshield” and a new smartphone app “that will be visible from inside the parked vehicle and offer information such as driver statistics, trips and history to the user.
“You may have read recent headlines that might have some wondering if these technologies are ready for prime time,” Reuss writes, citing a recent Pew Research Center poll that shows only 26% of Americans think self-driving vehicles are a “good idea,” while a whopping 44 percent think the opposite.
GM, like most automakers, is aware of the mountain it will have to climb to convince its customers that partially and fully autonomous vehicles can be a benefit to society – or at the very least a convenient and cool mode of transportation. . That said, the company is eager to put more AVs on the road in a bid to beat its competitors to market.
“Would I like things to go faster? Of course I would,” said Jason Fisher, chief engineer of autonomous vehicles at GM, in an interview with The edge. “We want to be first in the industry, and there’s a lot of revenue to be had when you look at the total addressable market. We want to conquer this market.
Fisher acknowledged that there’s a lot of confusion around the differences between AV and ADAS, which can make it harder to address the skepticism that exists toward the technology.
“We need to help people understand – and it’s very clear from General Motors’ perspective – that Super Cruise is not a fully functional autonomous vehicle, [and] that the driver must always command control of their vehicle,” he said. “We are very, very clear about what is fully autonomous and what is the responsibility of the driver.”
Other companies are less concerned with educating people about the differences between audio visual vehicles and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). Tesla called its ADAS “Autopilot,” then rolled out a more advanced version called “Full Self Driving,” which critics say is a prime example of “self-washing,” the act of making misleading claims about the capabilities of a vehicle’s technology.
A coalition of advocacy groups, including AAA, Consumer Reports, Partners for Automated Vehicle Education, JD Power, and the National Safety Council, recently released a set of new recommendations for universal terms for ADAS functionality, arguing that a language common will help reduce driver confusion.
As the timeline for mass adoption of self-driving vehicles appears to stretch further into the future, and as more companies divest audio-visual projects or sell them entirely, GM says it is still fully committed to the technology. Company CEO Mary Barra said earlier this year that GM would sell AVs for personal use by the middle of the decade – a bold prediction that upended expectations that AVs would only be suitable for commercial use due to expensive sensor suites.
The road to get there will be very bumpy. Cars will crash, as they always do, and while most of the time it’s a human driver’s fault, sometimes it’ll also be the AV’s fault. Earlier this summer, a driverless cruiser crashed into another vehicle in San Francisco, injuring occupants of both vehicles and prompting a federal investigation.
It was just the latest in a series of accidents over the past year. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there have been at least 130 crashes involving vehicles equipped with automated driving systems, 23 of which were reported by Cruise.
It can sometimes feel like self-driving vehicles are skidding, stuck in small neighborhoods in a handful of cities and only available to the bare minimum of real drivers. But the technology has been advancing, albeit very slowly – which is, of course, by design. AV companies such as Cruise need to ensure vehicles are safe to drive before committing to expanding the territory in which they operate. They want to be fast, but they know that going too fast can spell disaster.
“We don’t want to be a latecomer to history,” Fisher said. “We want to be the first, but we want to be the safest company.”