GM wants its cars to drive you

With many North American car companies struggling to compete in the global auto industry, General Motors is hoping its new focus on software and electronics will help revive its fortunes. GM’s new strategy involves what it calls a new automotive ‘DNA’.

“When we talk about the new DNA, we talk about moving from internal combustion engines to electric propulsion,” said Robert Baillargeon, thrust area leader for electronics, controls, software process, methods, and tools at GM Research and Development. “But to take it further, when we talk about mechanical systems, we’re talking about electronic systems replacing them for both steering and motion of wheels. This means that everything from how we build them, how we service them, and how we sell them is going to have to change.”

In a keynote speech at the recent IBM Centre for Advanced Studies Conference in Toronto, Baillargeon said that GM wants to extend the concept of a standalone system of vehicles that drive down the road to one in which vehicles are interconnected with those around it and with the roads and terrain. In a computer simulated video, he showed the audience a series of cars using sensors to communicate with each other about situations and conditions on the road.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if cars driving ahead of you could communicate back to you automatically, through the use of sensors, that there’s ice up ahead,” he said. “You’d get a heads-up display communicating that to you well in advance, allowing you to be prepared. The same thing could be used if there were a collision up ahead or lots of congestion.”

But the ultimate objective, he said, is to get vehicles to drive themselves. With a combination of GPS, digital maps, 360 degree sensing, and vehicle-to-vehicle communication, GM hopes this can become possible. And with further software and electronic breakthroughs, Baillargeon said even more could be possible.

“The next step of ‘take me to where I want to go,’ is in developing algorithms and electronic controls and actuators that enable your car to essentially become a chauffeur,” Baillargeon said.

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