Thanks to the way in which electric cars work — namely that they use an all-electric drivetrain and electrically-assisted power steering — plug-in hybrid and all-electric cars make the ideal test beds for companies looking to develop autonomous vehicle technology.
It’s no surprise then that most of the popular electric cars on the market today either already offer some degree of autonomous vehicle functionality or are being used as test-beds for future production self-driving cars. From the autopilot-enabled Tesla Model S to BMW’s self-parking i3, Volkswagen’s autonomous charging and Nissan’s fleet of autonomous drive LEAFs, electric drivetrains and driverless technology go hand in hand.
Now we can add the recently-launched 2016 Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car to the list with the news from General Motors Canada that it is about to build a fleet of self-driving 2017 Chevrolet Volts in order to develop and refine GM’s self-driving vehicle technology for future production use.
Announced on Tuesday at the Economic Club in Ottawa, Canada, the cars will be fitted with prototype autonomous driving technology at GM’s Oshawa Engineering Centre, before being sent to GM’s Technical Centre in Warren, Michigan. There, the cars will form part of an internal pilot program designed to study the use of autonomous vehicles in car-sharing programs.
According to GM, the first stage of the project will involve a specially-designed smartphone app with which employees at the Warren Technical Center will be able to reserve a car for use and have it meet them at a predetermined pickup point in the parking lot. With the destination set, the car will then drive the user to their destination, before finding a suitable place to park and wait for the next reservation to be set.
Although this will be the first time the Chevrolet Volt has been used for an autonomous vehicle test program, it’s worth noting that GM already has a very impressive autonomous drive portfolio, including its EN-V two-seat urban mobility concept vehicle and of course, the fully-autonomous SUV it produced nearly ten years ago for the DARPA grand challenge.
Back in October when GM announced its intention to run a fleet of self-driving Volts at the Warren Technical Center, GM CEO Mary Barra promised a major push from the Detroit automaker in autonomous vehicle technology, noting that GM wouldn’t stick with traditional owner-driver models to keep its business alive.
Instead, she hinted, a future of autonomous-driving cars that owners could hire or borrow for short trips would be a more logical and forward-thinking ownership model to pursue.
Back at the start of the year when GM unveiled the Chevrolet Bolt EV as a concept car at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, it came with an always-on Internet connection via GM’s Onstar telematics service, as well as a computer system which GM said would make it possible for the Bolt EV to be used in a car-sharing scenario. While autonomous drive technology was alluded to rather than confirmed, it’s no surprise that GM is eagerly researching that idea now for future deployment, using the Volt as the ideal test-bed.
It’s unlikely we’ll see the technology being tested by GM any time soon in a production model, but we’re interested to see what you think about GM’s vision of the future, where we simply use pre-arranged autonomous cars rather than drive ourselves.
Would you feel comfortable about giving up your own personal car? Would you find it more or less stressful? And how much would you pay for such a service?