2011-08-01

Co.Exist

GM's Autonomous Pod Cars Are Coming To A Megacity Near You

GM has autonomous, electric pods that can be summoned by a smartphone and will whisk you, hands-free, to wherever you want to go. They're almost ready, now we just need to wait for GPS to catch up.

GM's Electric Networked-Vehicle (EN-V) was an instant hit when it was first unveiled last year; the electric, autonomous (no steering wheel!) pod-like car is nothing if not futuristic and friendly-looking. It's like GM finally offered us the Jetsons future that we've all been waiting for. GM denies the recent rumors that it has set a production date for the EN-V, but rest assured, it's coming. We spoke to Sam Abuelsamid of GM's advanced technology communications team to get the details on when we'll all be pod-driving people.

The prototype vehicle, which has been touring expos, car shows, and conventions, doesn't necessarily represent what the production EN-V will look like. The two-wheeled concept is based on a Segway balancing platform, has low ground clearance, can't drive in rain or snow, and doesn't even have the juice to make it up a driveway ramp. Abuelsamid explains that the production version will retain the basic features—small size, advanced communications and sensing technology, vehicle to vehicle (and vehicle to infrastructure) communications, and, of course, an electric powertrain—but it will be "designed to be more practical for real-world use."

GM hopes to begin field trials in the next two to three years, but the vehicle probably won't go into production for about 10 to 15 years, largely because of our current lack of precise GPS capabilities. "A big part of autonomous capability comes from GPS. Our current precision is a maximum of three meters, which really isn't adequate for reliable autonomous operation," says Abuelsamid. "Over the course of the next decade or so, [they] will put up new GPS satellites to improve precision and reliability. We're hoping that gets improved, but in the interim we can still learn a lot."

Once the EN-V is ready for production, it could be deployed in any number of places—gated communities, college campuses, and megacities, where pollution and overcrowding could be alleviated by the emissions-free pod cars. Abuelsamid also speculates that the EN-V could make an ideal addition to a car-sharing service, since users could both summon the vehicle using a smartphone app and tell the EN-V to park itself when they're finished using it.

GM is rumored to be in talks with cities in China, South Africa, and the U.S. about creating an infrastructure for the vehicle, which will cost approximately $10,000 when it goes on sale.

[Image: GM]

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

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