In the realm of science-fiction-becoming-fact, there have been a lot of innovations that left the pages of the book behind and became a reality. Video chatting, navigation systems, even the microwave oven were once relegated to the world of fiction, only to become seamless parts of our lives. And for many people, the self-driving car is the next item on the “make it so” list.
That vision is already quickly becoming a reality, and the announcement that GM has bought a small software company, Cruise Automation, means the automaker is one step closer to releasing autonomous vehicles. While GM has already been at work in research and development for self-driving cars, Cruise Automation has something (besides just software) that the automaker needs: permission.
There are currently very few locations where developers can test a self-driving car in the real world of human traffic, and even in those locations there are necessary permits. The acquisition of Cruise Automation affords GM the ability to test its vehicles under actual driving conditions thanks to the software company’s permits. The testing stage is still quite obviously a work in progress, and a number of manufacturers have reached the real-world driving process with their vehicles.
One of the other obstacles in the race for self-driving vehicles–which even auto manufacturers have stated are safer than human drivers–is the wide variety of conditions that can interfere with the car’s cameras. These cameras are what enable the vehicle to maneuver, but in heavy rain, dust storms, snow, and other unsafe conditions, the car can literally cease operation. GM’s purchase of the software company, which will absorb all of its forty employees into a separate project in the car maker’s autonomous vehicle division, allows it to continue to work on the safety response aspect that is so crucial to the success of launching these vehicles for consumer use.