If you are out and about in San Francisco these days, you may see one or more Chevy Bolt test cars fitted with roof mounted sensors and cameras. They are pre-production prototypes that are undergoing testing by Cruise Automation, the west coast start-up that General Motors just purchased for $1 billion. The homepage of Cruise Automation features a photo of a while Chevy Bolt outfitted with an array of sensors and bears the caption, “We are testing our autonomous technology on the all new Chevrolet Bolt EV in San Francisco.”
In addition to buying Cruise Automation, General Motors has also invested a half billion dollars in Lyft, the ride hailing service that competes with Uber. GM says it may offer autonomous taxi service that combines the Lyft and Cruise technologies in an unnamed US city in the near future. The Chevy Bolt is expect to go into production before the end of this year and possibly as early as October.
On May 19, a Ford Fusion Hybrid equipped with self driving sensors and cameras was spotted on the streets of Pittsburgh. According to Automotive News, that car had Uber signage on it.
The rush to build autonomous driving cars has accelerated ever since Tesla Motors introduced its Autopilot suite of semi-autonomous features last fall. The strength of the Tesla program is that all of its cars are connected via the internet, so whatever one car learns, all Autopilot enabled cars learn. Teslas with Autopilot drive more than a million miles a day worldwide, giving Tesla an important advantage over its competitors.
Google was one of the first companies to invest heavily in autonomous driving systems. Even though it has been at it the longest, it still has not created any commercial applications for its technology, although it has recently forged an alliance with Chrysler to outfit 100 Pacifica plug-in hybrid vans with its self driving systems.
Recent studies suggest that the car companies are far out ahead of the general public when it comes to self driving cars. Many people question the need for such technology, although to be fair, the results are affected by the age of the respondents. Younger people seem to be more accepting of the technology than older drivers.
Elon Musk says self driving cars will be as common as self service elevators in a few years. Most people expect the new Tesla Model 3 to have the most advanced autonomous features available. That car is slated to begin production in less than 18 months.