Self-driving cars are about to hit the busy streets of NY City

gm self driving cars manhattan 52178306  creative picture of a traffic scene in nyc
madrabothair / 123RF Stock Photo
Drivers in New York City may soon have to ask themselves the profound question: If the car in front is a self-driving one, is there any point in honking my horn?

General Motors’ (GM) self-driving unit, Cruise Automation, could soon begin tests of its modified Chevy Bolts in a move that would see “fully autonomous” Level 4 vehicles tootling along the busy streets of Manhattan for the very first time.

New York City Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Tuesday, October 17 that GM has applied for a permit with the aim of starting trials in early 2018. The governor described self-driving vehicles as an “emerging industry that has the potential to be the next great technological advance that moves our economy and moves us forward.”

GM and Cruise are already laying the groundwork for the vehicle tests, mapping streets within a geofenced area in Manhattan. Cuomo’s office confirmed that all test vehicles will include a (possibly slightly nervous) engineer in the driver’s seat to monitor the car’s behavior and evaluate its performance. A second person, presumably another engineer, will ride in the passenger seat.

Cruise is already testing its Chevy Bolts in San Francisco, Detroit, and Scottsdale, Arizona, though it’s fair to say that if GM’s self-driving cars can handle the busy streets of Manhattan — including all of the shenanigans of some of its more unpredictable drivers, motorcyclists, cyclists, skateboarders, and pedestrians  — then it should be to handle anything, anywhere. The experience will certainly give Cruise’s algorithms a workout, and provide the team with plenty of data to help improve the technology.

Indeed, the frenetic pace of New York City clearly isn’t lost on Vogt, who notes that the challenging conditions will help its engineers to improve its software “at a much faster rate.”

GM and Lyft

GM hasn’t given away a great deal about its long-term plans for its self-driving technology, though ridesharing certainly looks to be on its roadmap following a $500 million investment in Lyft in 2016.

“We see the future of personal mobility as connected, seamless, and autonomous,” GM President Dan Ammann said at the time. “With GM and Lyft working together, we believe we can successfully implement this vision more rapidly.”

With Lyft rival Uber also working on self-driving technology, it might not be too long before the streets of New York City are filled with autonomous taxis gliding silently down Fifth Avenue. Although to truly fit in, perhaps GM’s software can learn the honking behavior of the city’s drivers and emit the occasional well-timed beep to retain that special New York atmosphere. GM could tap Waymo for some advice on that.

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