Self-Driving Cars, in 1956?

Self-Driving Cars, in 1956?

In 1955, GM announced it had built and successfully tested a new experimental gas turbine car called the Firebird II. The car was designed as an experiment to test the viability of a wide variety of new and futuristic technologies that might be deployed on cars of the future.

GM stylists, research men and engineers developed the first Firebird, Firebird I, for experimental purposes to study the commercial possibilities of the gas turbine engine. Firebird II represented a report to the public on GM’s progress in gas turbine development and other technologies.

The Firebird II had forward thinking features such as retractable head-lamps with rectangular lenses, pivoting directional signals, air flaps on the hood to vent engine and deflect bugs, a magnetic door key and a luggage compartment raised and lowered by remote control.

Some interesting interior features included a beverage cooler and outlet, retractable seat belts, reclining airplane-type seats, electronic adjustable headrests, ventilated seat cushions and a picnic table. The Firebird II also included a viewing screen for engine information, communication with the traffic "tower” and TV programs. A second screen replaced the rear-view mirror.

A sophisticated guidance system or electronic auto-control was intended to be used with 'the highway of the future.' It utilized an electric wire, embedded into a roadway, to send signals to guide future cars and avoid accidents. This concept is the forerunner to self-driving cars, first seen by Motorama attendees more than 50 years ago.

While self-driving cars with autopilot may have been a vision in 1956, developments today with autonomous technology is proving the vision could soon be a reality. The technology for fully autonomous cars has been evolving from the Firebird II through other experimental and real life tests GM has initiated over the last 50 + years. GM has been actively involved in shaping the course of development of semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicle technologies.

Automated driving requires the fusion of input from advanced sensors to provide 360 degrees of crash risk awareness. Advanced sensor technologies work together to detect objects, pedestrians and bicyclists in the roadway, determine the best following distance behind other vehicles, handle stop and go with the flow of traffic, heed traffic signals and navigate a pre-determined route.

In 2007 GM developed autonomous vehicle technology alongside students and faculty at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This collaboration created “The Boss” Chevrolet Tahoe, which brought autonomous vehicle operation to life in the DARPA Urban Challenge.

The DARPA Urban Challenge was an autonomous vehicle research and development program with the goal of developing technology that will keep warfighters off the battlefield and out of harm’s way. The event was held on November 3, 2007, at the former George AFB in Victorville, Calif. It required teams to build an autonomous vehicle capable of driving in traffic, performing complex maneuvers such as merging, passing, parking and negotiating intersections. This event was truly groundbreaking as the first time autonomous vehicles interacted with both manned and unmanned vehicle traffic in an urban environment. Working together, GM and the students and faculty won the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge, a 60-mile course navigated by a Chevrolet Tahoe without a driver.

In 2010 GM incorporated the lessons learned from the DARPA Urban Challenge into a new mobility concept car called the EN-V. The Chevrolet EN-V, or “Electronic Networked Vehicle”, was designed to address rapid urbanization, aging populations and more demand for personal mobility. The sensing technology, derived from the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge allows EN-V to detect other vehicles, obstacles and pedestrians, virtually eliminating crashes.

The EN-V urban mobility concept combines GPS with vehicle-to-vehicle communications and distance-sensing technologies to enable autonomous driving. The EN-V’s capabilities include pedestrian detection, collision avoidance, platooning and automated parking and retrieval, where the EN-V drops off its driver, parks itself and then returns to pick up the driver via commands from a smartphone. By combining the Global Positioning System (GPS) with vehicle-to-vehicle communications and distance-sensing technologies, the EN-V concept can be driven both manually and autonomously.

Combining vehicle-to-infrastructure communications technology pioneered by OnStar and vehicle-to-vehicle communications, EN-V users could benefit from real-time rerouting to avoid congestion while advanced sensing technology could allow autonomous operation privately or as part of vehicle-sharing programs.

The EN-V envisioned the idea of a public sharing network where a user could summon an autonomous vehicle to his or her location using a smartphone application and then sit back and relax while they are whisked off to a destination. Today, companies like Uber and Lyft are making this vision a reality.

The EN-V concepts take advantage of enabling technologies developed within GM, including propulsion electrification, sensing, automation and telematics.

The quest for semi-autonomous and fully autonomous technology for real world drivers continued with the advent of GM’s Super Cruise. In 2012, Cadillac road tested a semi-autonomous technology that is capable of fully automatic steering, braking and lane-centering in highway driving under certain optimal conditions. Super Cruise is designed to ease the driver’s workload on the freeway, in both bumper-to-bumper traffic and on long road trips by relying on a fusion of radar, ultrasonic sensors, cameras and GPS map data.

Many of the building block technologies for Super Cruise became available to the public on the 2013 Cadillac XTS and ATS luxury sedans, as part of the available Driver Assist Package. It is the first Cadillac system to use sensor fusion to provide 360 degrees of crash risk detection and enhanced driver assist features, including: Rear Automatic Braking, Full-Speed Range Adaptive Cruise Control, Intelligent Brake Assist, Forward Collision Alert, Lane Departure Warning, Side Blind Zone Alert, Rear Vision Camera with Dynamic Guidelines and Head Up Display.

A lot has been happening at GM over the years with mobility-related technology. And now today all of the years of advanced thinking and progress on electric cars, vehicle sensing technologies and Internet and Wi-Fi connected vehicles via OnStar are contributing to an exciting future.

A convergence is occurring in the industry where electric cars, self-driving technologies and vehicle connectivity are becoming the primary, enabling technologies to provide consumers with smart, safe and fun mobility solutions. And GM is in a leadership position today in these technologies as evidenced by the following;

  • The new GM Autonomous Vehicle Development Team is tasked with mapping out an engineering strategy as well as seeking partnerships and investments to make GM a leader in self-driving innovation.
  • GM has the largest fleet of electric cars in the industry; Chevrolet Volt, Spark and the 200 mile range Bolt EV.
  • With OnStar, GM has 20 years of experience with connected cars. OnStar has now responded to more than a billion customer requests since GM pioneered the "connected car" back in 1996. GM has over 12 million connected vehicles around the world.
  • GM acquired Cruise Automation to add Cruise’s deep software talent and rapid development capability to further accelerate GM’s development of autonomous vehicle technology.
  • GM is using GPS mapping with OnStar data for precise location and high-definition lane data for autonomous vehicles.
  • GM will deploy an autonomous fleet on the GM Tech Center in Warren, Michigan – an internal learning laboratory replete with all of the challenges of a city, from construction to congestion.
  • GM's new car-sharing service, Maven, provides customers access to highly personalized, on-demand mobility services.
  • GM’s partnership with Lyft reaffirms the company’s shared vision to create an integrated network of on-demand autonomous vehicles.

GM’s primary goal with semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicle development has been safety. Autonomous driving systems paired with advanced safety systems could help eliminate the crash altogether by interceding on behalf of drivers before they’re even aware of a hazardous situation. More than ever, consumers will be able to trust their car to do the right thing.

GM is well positioned to harness current and future technology to provide customers with the most meaningful options in personal mobility. The vision has been alive since 1956 and is coming into reality quickly!