GM's planned Cruise AV driverless car features no steering wheel or pedals in a still image from video released January 12, 2018. General Motors/Handout via REUTERS. ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO SALES, NO ARCHIVES.
GM's planned Cruise AV driverless car. GM, Ford and Toyota have united to develop autonomous regulations. GM

Driverless cars: GM to ditch steering wheel and pedals to put robot in charge



Next year, General Motors will no longer need an engineer in the front seat babysitting the robot brain that controls its self-driving Chevrolet Bolt. The steering wheel and pedals will be gone, giving total control to the machine.

When GM starts testing its autonomous electric sedan in San Francisco ride-sharing fleets, it’ll likely be the first production-ready car on the roads without the tools to let a human assume control. The announcement on Friday is the first sign from a major car maker that engineers have enough confidence in self-driving cars to let them truly go it alone.

“What’s really special about this is if you look back 20 years from now, it’s the first car without a steering wheel and pedals,” said Kyle Vogt, chief executive  of Cruise Automation, the San Francisco-based unit developing the software for GM’s self-driving cars.

GM will run the cars in a test batch for a ride-sharing programme starting in 2019, and they won’t be without a safety net. The vehicles will travel on a fixed route controlled by their mapping system, and the Detroit-based automaker is applying for federal permission to run the test cars without a driver.

Mr Vogt said the self-driving Bolt has redundant systems built in to back up the driving systems. If there’s a problem, the car will slow down, pull over to the roadside and stop.

GM’s experiment will be a significant step forward for self-driving cars. The automaker and companies including Alphabet’s Waymo unit and startup Zoox have demonstrated cars that can drive with so-called Level 4 autonomy. As defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers, cars at that level can drive without human intervention but only in certain geographic areas.

GM, Zoox, Waymo and others have all tested Level 4 cars, but usually with a driver still at the wheel to take over in case the system doesn’t work properly. Removing the driver will really test the technology, said Gill Pratt, chief executive of Toyota Motor’s Toyota Research Institute.

“If you’re testing Level 4 technology with a driver, you’re not really testing it at level 4,” he said in an interview at the CES technology show in Las Vegas this week.

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Read more:

Las Vegas accident raises questions about driverless vehicles 

Waymo announces fully self-driving cars on public roads

New driverless systems to be trialled in Dubai from next year

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Waymo and its precursor, Google’s self-driving car project, have tested autonomous vehicles in urban areas for years. Its Firefly prototype had no steering wheel or pedals and in 2015 took a blind man for what the company called “the world’s first truly self-driving trip".

Late last year, Waymo started an autonomous ride-hailing service in Phoenix using a self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivan. More recently, it dispensed with safety drivers, though the vans still has steering wheels.

GM argues Waymo’s tests are mostly in the greater Phoenix area, where traffic situations are less complex than what it’s encountered in San Francisco. A Waymo spokesman said in November that the company has tested its cars in 20 different cities.

GM, which also tests in Phoenix, said in a safety report slated to be released on Friday that for every 1,000 miles of autonomous driving, its car needed to make 1,462 left turns in San Francisco, compared with 919 in the Phoenix suburbs. Cruise’s car had to navigate construction blocking the lane more than 18 times as often in the Bay Area and had to deal with emergency vehicles 270 times, versus six Phoenix encounters, according to the report.

GM’s autonomous test cars were in 22 accidents in California last year, according to data from the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. All other companies combined had five accidents. In a November interview, GM President Dan Ammann attributed the accidents to testing in a dense urban environment and noted the company’s cars weren’t at fault in any of the incidents.

GM said it’s filed a petition with the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) to test the cars. Current US auto-safety standards contain several provisions that act as de facto requirements that vehicles have driver controls such as a steering wheel and foot pedals.

Manufacturers can get around those standards by petitioning NHTSA for exemptions, provided they demonstrate that the exempted vehicle will be at least as safe as a conventional one. Current law caps the number of exempted vehicles at 2,500 vehicles per manufacturer per year.

If NHTSA approves the petition, GM will still have to get permission from states to run the steering wheel-free cars. Currently, only seven states allow the technology to be tested without a safety driver, said Paul Hemmersbaugh, GM’s chief counsel and policy director for transportation as a service.

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Nomad Homes
Started: 2020
Founders: Helen Chen, Damien Drap, and Dan Piehler
Based: UAE and Europe
Industry: PropTech
Funds raised so far: $44m
Investors: Acrew Capital, 01 Advisors, HighSage Ventures, Abstract Ventures, Partech, Precursor Ventures, Potluck Ventures, Knollwood and several undisclosed hedge funds

Specs: 2024 McLaren Artura Spider

Engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 and electric motor
Max power: 700hp at 7,500rpm
Max torque: 720Nm at 2,250rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed dual-clutch auto
0-100km/h: 3.0sec
Top speed: 330kph
Price: From Dh1.14 million ($311,000)
On sale: Now

THE BIO

Favourite car: Koenigsegg Agera RS or Renault Trezor concept car.

Favourite book: I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes or Red Notice by Bill Browder.

Biggest inspiration: My husband Nik. He really got me through a lot with his positivity.

Favourite holiday destination: Being at home in Australia, as I travel all over the world for work. It’s great to just hang out with my husband and family.

 

 

The burning issue

The internal combustion engine is facing a watershed moment – major manufacturer Volvo is to stop producing petroleum-powered vehicles by 2021 and countries in Europe, including the UK, have vowed to ban their sale before 2040. The National takes a look at the story of one of the most successful technologies of the last 100 years and how it has impacted life in the UAE. 

Read part four: an affection for classic cars lives on

Read part three: the age of the electric vehicle begins

Read part two: how climate change drove the race for an alternative 

If you go...

Fly from Dubai or Abu Dhabi to Chiang Mai in Thailand, via Bangkok, before taking a five-hour bus ride across the Laos border to Huay Xai. The land border crossing at Huay Xai is a well-trodden route, meaning entry is swift, though travellers should be aware of visa requirements for both countries.

Flights from Dubai start at Dh4,000 return with Emirates, while Etihad flights from Abu Dhabi start at Dh2,000. Local buses can be booked in Chiang Mai from around Dh50

The Florida Project

Director: Sean Baker

Starring: Bria Vinaite, Brooklynn Prince, Willem Dafoe

Four stars

ALRAWABI SCHOOL FOR GIRLS

Creator: Tima Shomali

Starring: Tara Abboud, Kira Yaghnam, Tara Atalla

Rating: 4/5

'C'mon C'mon'

Director:Mike Mills

Stars:Joaquin Phoenix, Gaby Hoffmann, Woody Norman

Rating: 4/5

Spain drain

CONVICTED

Lionel Messi Found guilty in 2016 of of using companies in Belize, Britain, Switzerland and Uruguay to avoid paying €4.1m in taxes on income earned from image rights. Sentenced to 21 months in jail and fined more than €2m. But prison sentence has since been replaced by another fine of €252,000.

Javier Mascherano Accepted one-year suspended sentence in January 2016 for tax fraud after found guilty of failing to pay €1.5m in taxes for 2011 and 2012. Unlike Messi he avoided trial by admitting to tax evasion.

Angel di Maria Argentina and Paris Saint-Germain star Angel di Maria was fined and given a 16-month prison sentence for tax fraud during his time at Real Madrid. But he is unlikely to go to prison as is normal in Spain for first offences for non-violent crimes carrying sentence of less than two years.

SUSPECTED

Cristiano Ronaldo Real Madrid's star striker, accused of evading €14.7m in taxes, appears in court on Monday. Portuguese star faces four charges of fraud through offshore companies.

Jose Mourinho Manchester United manager accused of evading €3.3m in tax in 2011 and 2012, during time in charge at Real Madrid. But Gestifute, which represents him, says he has already settled matter with Spanish tax authorities.

Samuel Eto'o In November 2016, Spanish prosecutors sought jail sentence of 10 years and fines totalling €18m for Cameroonian, accused of failing to pay €3.9m in taxes during time at Barcelona from 2004 to 2009.

Radamel Falcao Colombian striker Falcao suspected of failing to correctly declare €7.4m of income earned from image rights between 2012 and 2013 while at Atletico Madrid. He has since paid €8.2m to Spanish tax authorities, a sum that includes interest on the original amount.

Jorge Mendes Portuguese super-agent put under official investigation last month by Spanish court investigating alleged tax evasion by Falcao, a client of his. He defended himself, telling closed-door hearing he "never" advised players in tax matters.

COMPANY PROFILE

Company: Eco Way
Started: December 2023
Founder: Ivan Kroshnyi
Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: Electric vehicles
Investors: Bootstrapped with undisclosed funding. Looking to raise funds from outside

yallacompare profile

Date of launch: 2014

Founder: Jon Richards, founder and chief executive; Samer Chebab, co-founder and chief operating officer, and Jonathan Rawlings, co-founder and chief financial officer

Based: Media City, Dubai 

Sector: Financial services

Size: 120 employees

Investors: 2014: $500,000 in a seed round led by Mulverhill Associates; 2015: $3m in Series A funding led by STC Ventures (managed by Iris Capital), Wamda and Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority; 2019: $8m in Series B funding with the same investors as Series A along with Precinct Partners, Saned and Argo Ventures (the VC arm of multinational insurer Argo Group)

ROUTE TO TITLE

Round 1: Beat Leolia Jeanjean 6-1, 6-2
Round 2: Beat Naomi Osaka 7-6, 1-6, 7-5
Round 3: Beat Marie Bouzkova 6-4, 6-2
Round 4: Beat Anastasia Potapova 6-0, 6-0
Quarter-final: Beat Marketa Vondrousova 6-0, 6-2
Semi-final: Beat Coco Gauff 6-2, 6-4
Final: Beat Jasmine Paolini 6-2, 6-2