The designers of the Batmobile and Speed Racer's Mach 5 never imagined cars like these. Oh sure, the Mach 5 could release powerful rotary saws from the front end, had a bullet-proof transparent cover, and could jump long distances, but could it avoid crashing into Racer X with automatic collision sensing? The Batmobile might have boasted nuclear power, but isn't hydrogen fuel-cell technology a better choice for the 21st century?
At the Computer Electronics Show on Tuesday, General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner unveiled prototypes of a "driverless ," an all-electric car (there was little mention of the EV), and a hybrid electric/hydrogen fuel-cell car.
Wagoner talked about collision-avoiding, vehicle-to-vehicle communications and, among several other new technologies, GM's OnStar GPS system that will sport real-time data. "The future of the auto is bright and increasingly electronic," Wagoner announced in the first-ever CES keynote for an auto executive. "All the factors point to a convergence of the automotive and electronics industries that is literally transforming the automobile."
One of the next big steps, he said, is to connect automobiles electronically to keep them from connecting physically. "We are working our way up the technology ladder," he added. "Our intent is to bring you the future of transportation. We'll do this by working more closely than ever with the consumer electronics industry, using electronics to reinvent the automobile."
Ready for a Driverless Car?
The most futuristic announcement was that a "driverless car" could be on the roads within 10 years. Codenamed the "Boss," the autonomous vehicle is based on the Chevy Tahoe that won the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Urban Challenge.
Carnegie Mellon University students built in enough robotics to allow the Tahoe to maneuver itself through traffic in a simulated city environment.
"Autonomous driving means that someday you could do your e-mail, eat breakfast, do your makeup, and watch a video while commuting to work," Wagoner said. "In other words, you could do all the things you do now while commuting to work, but do them safely."
One of the key aspects of that technology, Wagoner explained, is "vehicle-to-vehicle communication." In the future, cars will receive location signals from other vehicles and then automatically slow down or move to avoid collisions.
Electric, Hydrogen Cars Coming
Wagoner emphasized GM's commitment to making cars green and helping reduce American dependence on foreign oil by driving onto stage in a Chevrolet Volt, an electric car that he said would hit the market by 2010. While electric, hybrid, and flex-fuel cars will be important in the medium-term, Wagoner said, ultimately GM is looking to hydrogen fuel cells to represent the green future of automobiles.
GM expects that by 2012, 50 percent its cars will be flex-fuel models that run on up to 85 percent ethanol. During that time, GM will introduce 16 new hybrid models.
But the real star-car at the keynote was the Cadillac Provoq, a hybrid electric/hydrogen fuel-cell car. The car will have a range of 300 miles be able to hit 60 mph in 8.5 seconds. A solar panel on the roof will help power the car's audio system and other electronics, while the grill on the front of the car will seal off at high speeds for improved aerodynamics.
Finally, Wagoner discussed the latest version of GM's onboard navigation system, OnStar. The latest wonders in the system include the ability to alert emergency response units to the severity of an accident, a new turn-by-turn directions service ("not just saving lives but saving marriages"), and a "stolen vehicle slowdown" function that allows police to cut power to the engine remotely.
Wagoner also announced a deal with MapQuest so that maps and directions generated on the Web site can be sent to the OnStar system. "We really see electronics playing a huge role as we endeavor to reduce our reliance on foreign oil," he said.