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Alex Rae | Oct, 05 2017 | 1 Comment

The cars that should be wearing L-Plates.

General Motors has been testing a fleet of over 120 autonomous vehicles across three US cities with positive results as they learn to drive by themselves.

The American brand says that it has undertaken more than 1 million miles of successful testing, and says there is now reason Australia shouldn't have Level 4 autonomous vehicles on the raod by 2030.

A Chevrolet Bolt electric car with Level 4 driverless technology equipped has been picking-up and dropping-off GM employees in San Francisco, and the complex road system has required the car’s artificial intelligence learning to understand traffic nuisances.

GM claims the Bolts have reportedly been driving for up to 45 minutes through San Francisco traffic without any driver input and in a video shown to the media, the car is seen picking up passengers and using its deep learning artificial intelligence to safely negotiate unpredictable obstacles such as a rubbish truck parked on the side of an alley.

Speaking to media at a conference in Detroit, GM president, Dan Ammann, says the company is leading the way in autonomous vehicle testing: “On autonomous vehicles we’ve made some really, really significant progress. “

“If you see what some of our cars are doing in San Francisco, we’re the only company operating a development fleet of driverless cars in a super complex environment with pedestrians, cyclists and other things going on,” said Ammann.

And the technology is reportedly not far away from production: “We have a number of employees out there who are using these ride share AVs (autonomous vehicles) as their primary mode of transport. So that tells you it’s not years and years away.”

“In the first instance, it won’t be for private sale - the first place these cars will be deployed will be into a ride share type fleet,” said Ammann.

While it is unlikely that the current Chevrolet Bolt will make it dfown under, there is a chance the next-gen machine will arrive locally and will have some form of advance driverless technology. Holden is currently testing two Bolt EVs in Melbourne, however as TMR understand, they do not contain the autonomous tech.

GM director of strategy and innovation, Warwick Stirling, doesn’t see why the technology couldn’t arrive in Australia within the next ten years if government legislation isn’t too big a hurdle: “Would it be available globally? Yeah, why not,” he said.

“It sort of depends on the mapping, and what the standards and the rules are in that particular country. If Australia comes up with some sort of unusual rule, then maybe not. If the rules are similar to elsewhere in the world, then yeah.”

Warwick was also upbeat about consumer demand: “It scores off the charts in terms of what people want. People want it now. People will pay five, six, seven thousand dollars (US) for it or more (above their current car price).”

But because of cost, it will be a while longer before GM’s Level 4 autonomous cars get into the hands of private buyers.

The cost of autonomous cars is driven up by handmade sensors and military grade super computers. The Bolt uses at least five such sensors. GM foresees cars being sold to fleet buyers in the first instance: “What I would say is that in the fleet application and lower speed it will be available soon, like really soon. Like (in) San Franscisco or downtown Melbourne,” said Warwick.

“Autonomous will come but it’s really hard to predict the timing right, but I would say there’s a consensus of about ten years out,” said Warwick.

When referring to fleet applications, Warwick is referring to services such as Holden’s Maven Gig ride sharing servicing.

However, the technology is rapidly evolving and the cost dropping. The sensors which are currently in use are the size of a basketball but can now be made the size of a small book and discreetly incorporated into the car’s bodywork. The demand for autonomous driving and its sudden rise has created new set of challenges for GM: “To produce a fully driverless car at commercial is one of the biggest engineering challenges of all time,” said Ammann.

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