Friday, June 23, 2017

Self-Driving Cars Get Closer to "Mass Production"

In the manufacturing world, a run of 130 of some products is a month's worth, a year's worth, or even all you'll ever build, but for car manufacturing, it's a pretty small number.  Still, the fact that GM produced a lot of 130 Chevy Bolt Electric Vehicles with self-driving technologies added is a milestone for them.
The mass production technique involved the addition of cameras, Lidar and other sensors in an automated assembly plant in Orion Township, MI. It may or may not be a first for an autonomous car, but either way, industry observers expect the batch of Bolts to be followed by many more such efforts, from GM and its competitors. “This is what we’re going to be seeing during the next few years – finished vehicles coming off assembly lines with all the automated driving hardware built in already,” Sam Abuelsamid, research analyst for Navigant Research , told Design News .
The 130 new Bolts more than doubles the 50 self-driving Bolts released last year.  Industry experts also expect GM to produce as many as 1,000 more autonomous Bolts later this year or early next.  Similarly, Waymo, (formerly Google's self-driving car project) announced it will add 500 self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans to its fleets.
“We’re going to be seeing the same kinds of numbers – from dozens to hundreds to thousands over the next few years,” Abuelsamid said. 
Despite the doubts many (like blog brother Borepatch and I) have about the technology, the industry seems to be plunging ahead at full speed.  
Most automakers plan to enable their vehicles to reach SAE Level 4 capability in the next five years or so. SAE Level 4 calls for full automation, which means a driver could doze off or even leave the front seat, but only in limited domains. Drivers would have to be able to intervene in certain situations, such heavy snowfall or rain, as specified by the manufacturer.

Last year, Ford Motor Co. stated that it plans to remove the driver controls from some of its cars by 2021. “That means there’s going to be no steering wheel,” former Ford CEO Mark Fields said last August. There’s not going to be a brake pedal and, of course, a driver is not going to be required.”

Abuelsamid predicted this week that other manufacturers may reach the “no controls” point before Ford. “Going forward, as we get to 2019 and 2020, we’re going to see some of the first vehicles built without driver controls,” he told us. Full Level 5 automation – in which the autonomous car can operate in any situation – may not come until 2030, however.
The Design News article concludes with the quoted analyst, Abuelsamid, saying that ultimately the success of the market may depend on people who just don't trust it: both regulators and consumers.  “Studies have shown that there are a lot of people who still don’t trust the technology.” he said. 

Don't trust it?  Yeah.  There's a lot of us who have been over the hype cycle a few times and if we haven't seen it all, we've seen parts of it a lot of times.
Chevy Bolts on GM’s Orion Assembly Plant in Orion Township, Michigan.  GM photo. 


  1. I will NEVER buy a vehicle I don't have full control over.


    Call me paranoid, but I can see the day where you get in, the doors lock, and it takes you to the FEMA camp, or whatever they'll be calling it then.

    1. Assuming your current vehicle was manufactured in the year 2000 or later, you already bought a vehicle you don't have full control over. Fly by wire has been a fact of life for years.

    2. That is why, Mad Jack, my current vehicle is a 1994 GMC Suburban K1500. The last year without mandatory airbags.

    3. By "full control" I meant no self-driving stuff.

  2. The picture reminded me of this
    From the movie No Time For Sergeants

  3. They are dumping a ton of money into the technology, but there are still a lot of serious hurdles to get over. I don't think it's going to happen as quickly as they think, especially once the first few high-profile lawsuits get going.