GM executive says autonomous cars still many years away image

A General Motors executive said technology that could lead to autonomous vehicles is improving steadily, but drivers will remain integral to the operation of motor vehicles for many years to come.

Mike Robinson, GM’s vice president of sustainability and global regulatory affairs, told the U.S. House’s Highways and Transit Subcommittee, that for the “foreseeable future” drivers will “still need to be engaged and in control.”

“For the most part, people assume than an autonomous vehicle will take you to your destination without any personal involvement,” said Robinson. “These types of driverless systems are a significant distance into the future.”

The US subcommittee called the hearing to discuss the technical advances that have led to the belief that self-driving vehicles could be a market reality in the near future and the concerns that come with it. The committee noted that Google said it had logged hundreds of thousands of accident-free miles in autonomous vehicles, though it has announced no plans to sell self-driving vehicles.

As the subcommittee noted in a report, function-specific automation – including automatic brakes and parallel parking – are already available in some cases. Integration of those technologies with throttle and steering control “will begin to reduce the need to driver control of the vehicle.”

Ultimately, autonomous vehicles will navigate the road without human input, with electronic sensors and optical cameras reacting to well-defined lane and curb markers. Officials said vehicles could move more smoothly – the distance between vehicles kept constant – potentially resulting in a traffic system that is less congested and safer. It could also reduce fuel costs.

Earlier this year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also issued plans for research on autonomous vehicles, including proposals to look into connected vehicle technology that will allow self-driving cars to communicate via wireless radio signals, transmitting information on speed, lane departure and other data.