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Coming soon: Self-driving robotic cars

Posted: 11 Jan 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:robotic car? sensors? Consumer Electronics Show?

In his keynote speech at the Consumer Electronics Show this week, General Motors (GM) CEO Rick Wagoner said people will soon be able to read and create e-mail messages, eat breakfast, apply makeup, watch videos and read newspapers while safely "driving" to work.

"In other words, you could do all the things you do right now while commuting to workexcept you could do it safely," Wagoner said. He noted that the technology to let a car "drive" itself won't come out immediately, but its development already is well under way. Technology behind "Boss," demonstrated at the show, makes driverless vehicles a possibility, he said.

"Thirty-seven years ago, GM built the lunar rover for the Apollo space program," he said. "Why not try something a little more down to earth?"

GM helped Carnegie Mellon University and other partners develop an autonomous vehicle, called Boss, which won the grand prize at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's 2007 Urban Challenge. The robotic car was not remote controlled but used software and sensors to "figure out" the California course for itself.

"At GM, we're working our way up this advanced technology ladder to help our drivers avoid accidents and improve traffic flow," Wagoner said. GM already offers a "Lane Departure Warning System" and a blind-spot alert system on the 2008 Buick Lucerne and 2008 Cadillac STS and DTS, he added.

"We're preparing to take it even further through the use of GPS and advanced transponder technology that we believe will revolutionize the driving experience," he said. "We call it V2V, or vehicle-to-vehicle communications."

Wagoner said the vehicles will use electronic communications to determine the speed and location of vehicles in front of them and direct cars based on the information they receive. He said the next generation of the technology would use transponders to communicate with other vehicles within a quarter mile of each other.

"So, if six cars ahead, somebody in a transponder-equipped vehicle steps on the brakes ... in your lane or the lanes on either side of you, your transponder will immediately know that, and start slowing down your car before you're even aware you may need to stop," he said. "This type of technology, unheard of 15 years ago, has the potential to minimize traffic jams and, more importantly, greatly reduce highway accidents and fatalities with minimal or possibly even no roadway infrastructure required."

- K.C. Jones

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