Story Of GM’s Autonomous Car With No Steering Wheel

| December 3, 2018
Autonomous Cars Without Steering Wheels

The automobile industry is taken by surprise. An incredible news from General Motors is the reason. The news is about the planned launch of fourth generation autonomous cars. The cars will not have steering wheels or brakes. GM calls these cars “Cruise AV“.


Self-driving cars have been in the news for several years now. Do you wonder why the specific news from GM is so exciting? What is so special about these self-driving cars? You will see now.

Inside GM’s Autonomous Cars

GM Autonomous Car Features
GM Autonomous Car Features

The planned Cruise AV cars are built on the same platform as Chevrolet Bolt EV. Below are the key features you will find inside these cars.

  1. No steering wheel: The car doesn’t require intervention from a driver anytime. Hence, there will no steering wheel.
  2. No manual controls: The car has no brakes and has no accelerators. Everything is controlled by computers.
  3. No Backup Driver: The car doesn’t need a driver. This means the car is designed to self-handle even emergency conditions.
  4. Help for visually impaired: Voice command support will be of great help to visually impaired.
  5. Automatic doors: The car will feature automatic doors. No worry if a rider doesn’t close a door properly.

Are GM’s Self-Driving Cars Safe?

Questions regarding safety are always raised regarding driverless cars. Below you will find how GM addresses those concerns.

Safety a Top Priority

GM Vision Prioritizes Saftety
GM Vision Prioritizes Saftety

The major focus of “Cruise AV” is not the beautiful design or super-spacious windshield or even the automatic doors. The company’s prime focus is the safety of the riders.

Zero Crashes” is the first of the three phrases in the vision statement of GM. In lines with the mission and vision, safety has been given the topmost priority in the making of Cruise AV.

So how exactly Cruise AV is going to ensure the safety of the passengers over traditional cars?

Before seeing the safety features in detail, you should know why car safety is important. Do you know 94% of accidents occur due to human errors? This figure is found in a report by is National Highways Traffic and Safety Administration. The report says most of the car accidents occur because of wrong decisions by human drivers.

If an invention can prevent human mistakes the potential to save lives is incredible. According to Association of Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), about 37,000 Americans die every year due to road accidents. Not all crashes are car accidents. But to help you understand the importance of autonomous cars here is a rough math. You know 94% crashes are due to human errors. 94% off 37000 is approximately 34700. So, self-driving cars have the potential to save over 30000 lives every year.

How GM’s Autonomous Car Prevents Crashes

Sure, “Zero Crashes” is a part of the vision. But how exactly the self-driving cars of GM work to achieve the goal. You will find now.

One notable feature that is aimed at preventing crashes is a dedicated emergency system. This is a redundant system which works independently from the main system. This is kind of a backup if the main system fails. For example, in emergency situations, if the car’s primary system doesn’t apply brakes the subsystem will do the task.

What if a Crash Occurs Anyways

We are living in a real world. Crashes do happen in the real world. No car maker can guarantee a 100% crash-free autonomous car.

In case of a crash, the car will do everything it can to save passengers from injuries. Let us discuss the three potential risks and how the car handles such risks.

  1. Head Injuries: Like any conventional car, GM’s autonomous car does have airbags. However, there is a difference. There is no steering wheel. Hence the location of the airbag for the front left seat will be different. The location will be similar to the airbag location for the front right seat.
  2. Passenger Space Collapse: Collapse of inner space is a major risk factor. The car tries to maintain structural integrity during an emergency. GM cars have computers that can distribute forces during crashes so that the internal space is intact.
  3. Combustible Battery: You may have heard about a couple of rare incidences of Tesla batteries catching fire. This issue is not Tesla-specific, but batteries in electric cars are at a risk of catching fire when damaged. GM’s autonomous car is wary of this risk and has taken measures. Just like the passenger space is maintained intact, the computer will try to prevent any damage to the battery housing space.
  4. Passenger Losing Consciousness: In crashes, a passenger may lose consciousness due to injuries or shock. In such cases, the car will promptly send alert to a support person.

Technology Behind an Autonomous Cruise AV

The car uses a combination of laser sensors radars and cameras to track fixed and moving objects. Not just tracking but a powerful computer can predict the path of objects based on their location and speed. You can think this feature in lines with a simulation software. For example, if a car in front of yours is moving slower, then your car (Cruise AV!) should be able to predict a collision if you travel with the same speed. Thus, your car will adjust the speed by itself or switch to a different lane.

The sensors don’t just track other cars but they are capable of detecting and predicting the movements of pedestrians. The sensors are powerful to handle every single object you see on roads.

Iterative, Self-Learning Technology

GM proudly says their cars can learn iteratively (continuously every second). What does this mean? If you have some background in statistics or Big Data or predictive Analytics you should know the answer already. You may have heard the term machine learning. Machine learning is nothing but improving the response of a system by feeding data. When the data is fed continuously, we can call the system to learn “iteratively”.

When GM’s autonomous car is on the roads, computers gather data continuously from the real world. Inputs will be fed into computers so that the algorithms refine themselves on an ongoing basis.

Ideally, we (Netcials) hope data gathered across the fleet of cars will be fed into a centralized server. This will pave way for centralized updates in all the cars.

The iterative system improves the robustness, safety, fuel efficiency and other features with time.

Cruise AV’s Fuel Efficiency

GM Driverless Car Are Fuel Efficient
GM Driverless Car Are Fuel Efficient

Another notable future is the fuel efficiency. When you drive a car its impossible to maintain a perfect speed, acceleration or path for maximum fuel efficiency. But, a computer of a self-driving car can do the magic.

GM’s Mobile App for “Robo” Taxis

Mobile App For A Ride In Robo Taxis
Mobile App For A Ride In Robo Taxis

The company has promised a mobile app using which you can request a ride on “Cruise AV” once the plan goes live. If the changes to the laws requested by the company are approved, you are sure to have robot taxis at your service through a simple mobile app. Hopefully, those days are very near (as early as 2019).

Robo Taxis A Reailty
Robo Taxis A Reailty

Why GM’s Autonomous Cars are of 4th Generation

What is meant by 4th generation automation cars? Why do GM’s latest cars fall into this category? You will see now.

Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has come up with 6 levels of automation. To understand the significance of GM’s latest announcement, you should learn what each level means. Thus you will be able to appreciate the gigantic leap of “Cruise AV” in the self-driving cars segment.

Levels of Automation Outlined by SAE
Levels of Automation Outlined by SAE
Level 0

Level 0 means no automation. However, the car can issue programmed warning or signals. The driver should be alert always.

Level 1
In Level 1 automation cars, the driver should be on the steering well all the times. But some tasks will be taken care of by the card. A perfect example is a parking assistance system. (Automatic lane control also comes under this category.)
Level 2
Real self-driving cars start from level 2 onwards. The driver will be freed from all manual controls. However, he should stay alert all the time. He should be able to intervene whenever the system requests.
Level 3
The much talked about Audi A8 is of the third generation. In the third generation vehicles, a driver can take off his attention off the road. A specific system in Audi helped the cars to self-drive at low speeds up to 60 km/hour even in high traffic conditions.
Level 4
Fourth generation cars can self-drive even without a single person who has any driving experience. Does this mean the 4th generation is ultimate? The answer is no because fourth generation cars can ride only on programmed geographies or conditions.
Level 5
The leap from level 3 to level 4 is happening fast (only a matter of 2 years between Audi A8 launch and proposed Cruise AV launch). But the transition from level 4 to 5 will take a lot of time. Most experts would agree on this. The reason is the fifth generation cars are fully automatic in all conditions. Level 5 is a distant dream and major automakers are working hard to realize the dream.

The first producer of level 5 cars may well be the global leader in the auto segment in years to come!

How Many Self-Driving Cars You Can Expect in 2019

According to news reports, if the government allows, about 2500 cars are expected to hit roads by 2019. Every year, one can expect a similar addition to the existing fleet size.

Is GM the Only Player in Self-Driving Car Segment?

If you are an observer of the automobile industry for the last couple of years, you already know the stiff competition in the driverless car segment. Other than GM, players who are making good progress in self-driving segment include Ford, Tesla, Google, etc.

Why Cruise AV is Clearly Ahead in Race?

Though other companies are working hard to launch self-driving cars, GM has taken the race to a new level. The Cruise AV has two significant advantages.

  1. They are fully autonomous.
  2. They are production ready.

How Audi A8 Compares With Cruise AV?

Audi 8, which was launched in 2017 in Barcelona was the most talked about self-driving car last year. The automation features including “Traffic Jam Pilot” were appealing to masses. However, it is no match to GM’s car because Audi 8 has level 3 automation features while GM’s car is of level 4.

GM’s Announcement on Jan 12, 2018

GM has requested for changes in laws to enable the autonomous cars to hit roads before 2020. There are several reasons why the existing laws don’t allow a level 4 self-driving car. A prominent reason is given below.

Safety laws require airbags in steering wheels. However, the fourth-gen cruise AV doesn’t have a steering wheel!

GM Requests 16 Changes in Safety Laws

The automation features in GM’s new car is unheard of. Therefore existing laws need multiple changes. The number of changes requested is 16.

Conclusion: Why Autonomous Cars Like Cruise AV are the Need of the Hour

As we mentioned earlier, human errors are a major reason for accidents and deaths. Self-driving cars can reduce the accidents significantly.

Apart from safety, there are plenty of reasons in support of autonomous cars. Some of them are given below.

  1. Smooth Flow of Traffic: Driverless cars can be programmed so that traffic flow is smooth even on busy roads.
  2. Increased Availability: Less dependence on human drivers increases the availability of vehicles.
  3. Efficiency in Rescue Operations: Automated cars can handle rescue operations better than cars driven by the human. They can be remotely managed.