If you happen to see a driverless car trundling down Fifth Avenue, don’t panic.
Compounding the misery that Elon Musk is likely feeling right now, General Motors has scored yet another victory in its quest to build the first commercially viable self-driving car. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday granted GM’s Cruise Automation division permission to begin testing fully autonomous vehicles on New York City roads – meaning GM will become the first automaker to begin testing autonomous cars in the northeast.
The company will begin testing the cars early next year. The New York decision follows a similar move by California regulators, who earlier this month granted GM’s request to nearly double the size of its autonomous test fleet being tested in San Francisco, ignoring a troubling spike in accidents that has unnerved automobile safety groups.
Specifically, Cuomo granted GM permission to begin testing a “level 4” autonomous vehicle, which is considered fully autonomous with no option for human intervention. While a level 3 car still needs a steering wheel and a driver who can take over if the car encounters a problem, level 4 promises driverless features in dedicated lanes, Reuters reports. Meanwhile, a level 5 vehicle is capable of navigating roads without any driver input and in its purest form would have no steering wheel or brakes.
GM, along with many of its competitors in the self-driving car space – a group that includes Google/Waymo, Uber, Audi, Tesla and Ford – has been testing its automated cars in a number of ities, but busy San Francisco has been the most important testing ground because it allows cars to collect data from congested and often chaotic urban environments, an effort that one might expect to be fraught with complications given that the slightest error on the car’s part can be easily amplified given the volume of traffic.
GM and Cruise Automation will begin conducting tests in Manhattan with an engineer in the driver’s seat to monitor the performance, and a second person in the passenger seat, according to the governor’s statement.
The company will deploy a fleet of self-driving Chevrolet Bolt electric cars early next year in a 5-square-mile section of lower Manhattan that engineers are mapping, said Kyle Vogt, chief executive of Cruise Automation, the driverless-car developer GM acquired last year. The move could be seen as a threat to the thousands of taxi drivers piloting yellow cabs around New York, as autonomous robot-taxis operated by GM and its rivals are seen eventually displacing human drivers, according to WSJ.
While GM appears to be pulling ahead in the race to build the first driverless car, it has passed over more than a few bumps in the road. GM’s self-driving cars were involved in 6 accidents during the month of September – a month where the company finished expanding its fleet of self-driving cars from around 30 or 40 cars to more than 100.
As WSJ pointed out, Deutsche Bank analyst Rod Lache said in a research note earlier this month he believes GM could launch a commercial autonomous-ride service—without anyone at the wheel—“within the next few quarters, well ahead of competitors.” Citing recent briefings with company officials, he thinks GM will offer its own service that could be “highly disruptive” to ride-hailing giants Uber and Lyft Inc.
Cars are already driving themselves on roads in California, Texas, Arizona, Washington, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. One-quarter of miles driven in the U.S. by 2030 could be through shared, self-driving vehicles, according to an estimate from the Boston Consulting Group.
But of course, whether the driverless-car future is three years – or 30 – years away remains to be seen.
Read the full statement from Cuomo’s office below:
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced General Motors and Cruise Automation are applying to begin the first sustained testing of vehicles in fully autonomous mode in New York State in early 2018. Through Governor Cuomo's recent legislation allowing the testing of autonomous technology, GM and Cruise are applying to begin testing in Manhattan, where mapping has begun in a geofenced area. All testing will include an engineer in the driver's seat to monitor and evaluate performance, and a second person in the passenger seat. In support of this work, Cruise is expanding its presence in New York and will begin building a team of employees in New York City.
"Autonomous vehicles have the potential to save time and save lives, and we are proud to be working with GM and Cruise on the future of this exciting new technology," Governor Cuomo said. "The spirit of innovation is what defines New York, and we are positioned on the forefront of this emerging industry that has the potential to be the next great technological advance that moves our economy and moves us forward."
The legislation, included in the FY 2018 budget, allows for the testing of autonomous technology in New York through a pilot program. Cruise's planned testing would be the first time Level 4 autonomous vehicles will be tested in New York State, presenting opportunities for future autonomous vehicle development in the state and cementing New York's role as the hub of autonomous vehicle innovation in the nation.
Kyle Vogt, CEO of Cruise Automation, said, "Testing in New York will accelerate the timeline to deploying self-driving cars at scale. New York City is one of the most densely populated places in the world and provides new opportunities to expose our software to unusual situations, which means we can improve our software at a much faster rate. We look forward to working with Governor Cuomo as we work toward bringing next-generation transportation solutions to New York."
The Department of Motor Vehicles and State Police will work with Cruise and GM to ensure all testing meets relevant safety, vehicle and insurance requirements.
In June, Audi of America Inc. performed New York State's first autonomous vehicle demonstration. Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul took a test drive in the vehicle. Also in June, Lieutenant Governor Hochul participated in road testing of an autonomous Cadillac SUV organized by University of Buffalo on campus roads. The demonstration was part of the annual summer meeting of the Council of the University Transportation Centers, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that represents more than 90 universities and colleges nationwide, including UB. In September, Cadillac embarked on the first official Coast-to-Coast hands-free drive on freeways, in New York City. The cars used were Cadillac CT6s equipped with Super Cruise - the first hands-free highway driver assist system. This was also the first-time self-driving cars were officially driven on New York City roads.
Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul said, "The time to embrace this revolution in transportation technology is now, which is why Governor Cuomo is positioning New York State at the forefront of autonomous vehicle testing and research. I have taken part in three AV demonstrations in 2017, and there is no question that we are on the brink of a breakthrough for the automotive industry and our state economy. This partnership with General Motors and Cruise Automation is an exciting step into that future."
Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer said, "New York is the ultimate proving ground for autonomous vehicle technology. We have a streetscape that is unrivaled in its scale and complexity, and so it's fitting that General Motos and Cruise Automation are finally bringing this technology here for testing and development. I thank Governor Cuomo for pushing the legislation that paved the way to this milestone. I'm proud and excited that more and more, the future itself is being made in New York."
Matt Mincieli, Northeast Region Executive Director for TechNet, a trade association comprised of over 70 of the nation's leading technology companies, said, "Governor Cuomo's announcement of the Cruise Automation partnership proves that New York State is serious about bringing AV technology to the Empire State and taking a leadership role in safely, but aggressively, testing this rapidly evolving technology. This private/public partnership spearheaded by the Cuomo Administration is the type of innovative approach to adopting burgeoning technology that will ensure New York State continues to attract the talented workforce and venture capital dollars necessary to remain a top tech hub."
Julie Samuels, Executive Director of Tech:NYC, said, "GM and Cruise's autonomous vehicle testing in New York City demonstrates a significant step forward and ensures New York continues to lead the tech industry. From landmark investments in broadband and policies to support emerging technologies like autonomous vehicles and drones, New York is helping advance U.S. innovation. We applaud Governor Cuomo's efforts to invest in New York's tech industry and welcome GM and Cruise to New York City."
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Look Out, New Yorkers: GM To Begin Testing Driverless Cars In The Big Apple
If you happen to see a driverless car trundling down Fifth Avenue, don’t panic.