Blog Driverless vehicles are heading your way

Driverless vehicles are heading your way
Safer, cheaper, and more efficient driverless cars will be coming to pick you up sooner than you might think, according to Lawrence Burns, a former Corporate Vice President of Research & Development and Planning at General Motors (GM).

Burns, who now consults for auto companies and their technology partners like Google, is convinced we are near a tipping point.

“Driverless vehicles are not a fairy tale,” Burns said at the AIC on Tuesday.  “I absolutely believe driverless vehicles are real.“

Combined with the rise of electric engines and ride sharing services, driverless cars will eventually change the auto industry in profound ways. Imagine the end of driving, the internal combustion engine, car dealers, car ownership, and the car insurance industry as we know it.

Burns, who studied safety issues like distracted drivers while at GM, said autonomous cars have the potential to reduce accidents by as much as 94 percent, using integrated sensors, lasers, radars and cameras to make driving decisions and communicate with other vehicles. 

“This is what we do with aircraft today,” Burns said.

Driverless cars weigh less than current vehicles, without equipment like steering wheels and gas pedals, and use less power. Burns predicts they will also be more durable, reducing replacement auto sales. Sharing programs will increase utilization rates and ease parking problems, potentially reducing traffic and cutting down on driving time. Instead of marketing a new model car to a buyer, through a dealer, auto makers will see a new business model, selling miles, trips and experiences. And that model will extend beyond people to the movement of goods. Burns notes that Mercedes is exploring autonomous trucks.

Electric propulsion vehicles are nearing a tipping point of their own, Burns said. Citing Volkswagen’s recent emissions scandal, Burns predicts many auto makers will see electric as the smarter choice.

“Regulations that are out there in the auto industry are making the combustion based vehicle extraordinarily complex,” Burns said. “We’re going to reach a point, and I think it will be within five years, when the industry will collectively say: it’s better to do electric.“

What are some of the challenges facing driverless cars? Legal systems, for one, Burns said. In the US, some states, including California, have not updated laws to enable massive use of autonomous vehicles.

“Texas said: ‘Come on down. We don’t think we need any new laws’,” Burns said.

And like many new technologies, driverless cars will require protection from hackers and even computer viruses. Their 360 degree sensors capture data that could present privacy concerns.

“I do worry about cybersecurity,” Burns said. “We are designing them to be as robust as possible.”

 Will flying cars finally be on the horizon?

“I’ve been around long enough not to rule anything out,” Burns said. 

Watch the full replay of Lawrence Burns's address