Forget those Tesla accidents: GM says you can trust its autonomous vehicles

Forget those Tesla accidents: GM says you can trust its autonomous vehicles

General Motors is racing to electrify its wide range of vehicles in a concerted effort to overtake Tesla as the world’s number one seller of electric vehicles. But it also competes with Tesla on a whole other front: self-driving vehicles.

On that front, GM feels it has an advantage. Its advanced hands-free driver assistance system, Super Cruise, will double its coverage area to 400,000 miles of highway and road later this year. Next year, the automaker will unveil its next iteration, the Ultra Cruise, which GM said will cover “95 percent” of driving duties. 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 service.

But nowadays, public perceptions about assistive vehicles and driver assistance technology are not great. People see headlines about the recent Tesla accident, or remember the woman who was killed by a self-driving Uber vehicle in 2017, and conclude that self-driving vehicles are too dangerous for public use.

That could hurt GM’s efforts to put more autonomous and partially automated vehicles on the road. The company is counting on an educational campaign, as well as stories in the media, to help consumers work around the differences between, say, a Chevrolet Super Cruze pickup truck and the fully self-driving Cruise Origin, which is set to hit the road. As soon as next year.

GM President Mark Royce posted an article on LinkedIn today outlining the automaker’s approach to safety, both with regard to advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) such as Super Cruise and Ultra Cruise and its fully independent projects such as Cruise. He also revealed some new details about the technology that will accommodate the Ultra Cruise system, such as the lidar sensor “behind the windshield” and the new smartphone application “which can be viewed from inside the parked car and will provide information such as driver statistics, trips and history to the user.”

Royce wrote, citing a recent Pew Research Center survey that showed that only 26 percent of Americans think self-driving vehicles are a “good idea,” while 44 percent think the opposite.

General Motors, like most automakers, is aware of the mountain it will need to climb in order to convince its customers that fully and partially autonomous vehicles can be good for society — or at least a great, comfortable means of transportation. However, the company is keen to acquire more roadside assistance vehicles in order to outperform its competitors in the market.

“Do I want things to go faster? Of course I will,” Jason Fisher, chief engineer for self-driving vehicles at GM, said in an interview with the edge. “We want to be the first in this space, and there is a lot of revenue to be generated when you look at the total addressable market. We want to capture that market.”

Fisher acknowledged that there is a lot of confusion about the differences between ARVs and ADAS, which could make it more difficult to address existing skepticism toward this technology.

“We need to help people understand – and it’s very clear from a GM perspective – that the Super Cruze is not a fully functional autonomous vehicle. [and] that the driver is still expected to have their control.” “We are very, very clear about what is completely autonomous and what is the responsibility of the driver.”

Other companies are less aware about educating people about the differences between assistive vehicles and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). Tesla called ADAS “autopilot” and later introduced a more advanced version called “fully autonomous driving,” which critics say is a prime example of “auto-washing,” the act of making misleading claims about the car’s technology capabilities.

A coalition of advocacy groups, including AAA, Consumer Reports, Vehicle Machine Learning Partners, JD Power, and the National Safety Council, recently released a set of new recommendations for global terminology for ADAS features as well, arguing that common language will help reduce driver confusion.

As the timeline for mass adoption of autonomous vehicles appears to stretch further into the future and more companies either move away from AV projects or sell them entirely, GM says it remains fully committed to the technology. Mary Barra, the company’s CEO, said earlier this year that GM would sell antipersonnel vehicles for personal use by the middle of the decade — a bold prediction that reversed expectations that assistive vehicles would be suitable for commercial use only because of expensive sensor kits.

The road there will be very bumpy. Cars will crash, as always, and while that will be the fault of the human driver most of the time, sometimes it will also be the fault of the AV. Earlier this summer, a cruiser’s driverless vehicle collided with another vehicle in San Francisco, injuring occupants of both vehicles and prompting a federal investigation.

This was just the latest in a series of incidents that have occurred over the past year. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there have been at least 130 accidents involving vehicles equipped with automated driving systems, 23 of which were reported by Cruise.

It can sometimes seem like self-driving vehicles are spinning, stuck in action in small neighborhoods in a few cities and only available to the fewest real riders. But technology has been making progress, albeit very slowly — and that is, of course, by design. AV companies like Cruise need to make sure vehicles can drive safely before committing to expanding the area in which they operate. They want to be fast, but realize that moving too fast can lead to disaster.

“We don’t want to be laggards in history,” Fisher said. “We want to be the first, but we want to be the safest company out there.”

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