GM's Autonomous Pod Cars Are Coming To A Megacity Near You

GM has autonomous, electric pods that can be summoned by a smartphone and will whisk you, hands-free, to wherever you want to go. They're almost ready, now we just need to wait for GPS to catch up.

autonmous-pod

GM's Electric Networked-Vehicle (EN-V) was an instant hit when it was first unveiled last year; the electric, autonomous (no steering wheel!) pod-like car is nothing if not futuristic and friendly-looking. It's like GM finally offered us the Jetsons future that we've all been waiting for. GM denies the recent rumors that it has set a production date for the EN-V, but rest assured, it's coming. We spoke to Sam Abuelsamid of GM's advanced technology communications team to get the details on when we'll all be pod-driving people.

The prototype vehicle, which has been touring expos, car shows, and conventions, doesn't necessarily represent what the production EN-V will look like. The two-wheeled concept is based on a Segway balancing platform, has low ground clearance, can't drive in rain or snow, and doesn't even have the juice to make it up a driveway ramp. Abuelsamid explains that the production version will retain the basic features--small size, advanced communications and sensing technology, vehicle to vehicle (and vehicle to infrastructure) communications, and, of course, an electric powertrain--but it will be "designed to be more practical for real-world use."

GM hopes to begin field trials in the next two to three years, but the vehicle probably won't go into production for about 10 to 15 years, largely because of our current lack of precise GPS capabilities. "A big part of autonomous capability comes from GPS. Our current precision is a maximum of three meters, which really isn't adequate for reliable autonomous operation," says Abuelsamid. "Over the course of the next decade or so, [they] will put up new GPS satellites to improve precision and reliability. We're hoping that gets improved, but in the interim we can still learn a lot."

Once the EN-V is ready for production, it could be deployed in any number of places--gated communities, college campuses, and megacities, where pollution and overcrowding could be alleviated by the emissions-free pod cars. Abuelsamid also speculates that the EN-V could make an ideal addition to a car-sharing service, since users could both summon the vehicle using a smartphone app and tell the EN-V to park itself when they're finished using it.

GM is rumored to be in talks with cities in China, South Africa, and the U.S. about creating an infrastructure for the vehicle, which will cost approximately $10,000 when it goes on sale.

[Image: GM]

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

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5 Comments

  • Stephen Lytton

    This innovation is to be greatly welcomed as a positive step
    towards an overall approach to tackling transportation issues. A number of key
    issues are, however, still being missed. One is the question of electric cabling
    rather than (or as a supplement to) the electric battery as a means of powering
    the pods and the superpods. The cables could eventually follow the full road
    network, which would furthermore have the added benefit of reducing the width and
    cost of the tarmac needed for re-surfacing the ever-more damaged road network.
    Naturally, this would necessitate a review of energy-generating possibilities;
    but we need that anyway.

    There would also probably need to be much more state
    intervention to ensure chassis standardisation, systems for calculating mileage
    prices and subsidies for vulnerable, disadvantaged and isolated communities; but
    perhaps the main question is: how to move away from individual ownership of vehicles
    and towards increasingly socialised transportation systems that still allow
    people to go to where they want, with whatever or whomsoever they want, when
    they want?

    Perhaps, instead of spending so much money trying individually
    to promote the myth of “the pleasurable driving experience”, auto-mobile manufacturers
    ought to be collaborating with one another to provide an overall socialised
    solution to the current and future madness of contemporary traffic management.
    This could moreover provide vast employment opportunities, particularly for the
    young, and, unlike with globalisation, this could ensure that employment
    remains local and constructive.

  • Garry Golden

    Glad to see this GM-Segway-SAIC project being pushed beyond the eye candy rooms of annual auto shows. I think there is a huge upside here-- for 'last mile' solutions to connect transit, for the reinvention of urban fleets (what could Uber or Zipcar do w/ a large fleet of these?)  --
    It goes a long way as a form factor for rethinking mobility as service--- and opens up a 'blue ocean' manufacturing platform for EVs powered by integration of batteries-fuel cells. 
    Lack of precise GPS?  Seems like a solution for tech infrastructure people to solve in 18 months?! 
    Well done GM-- and glad to see Segway's vision finally being built upon..
    GG-

  • Shane Kraft

    hmm lets just hope they arent "stealing" information from all the local networks, like google when they shot themselves in the foot!!

  • Berit Anderson

    Not only is GM a leader in terms of car technology, but their dedication to sustainability has done them well in the world of corporate social responsibility. Their rating on CSRHUB, a corporate social responsibility ratings database is a 56 -- a full five points above the average for the motor vehicle manufacturing industry. http://csrhub.com/CSR_and_sust...