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General Motors to test self-driving cars in New York City

General Motors to test self-driving cars in New York City

From Financial Times: General Motors plans to become the first company to test self-driving cars in New York City, in some of the world’s worst traffic, as traditional automakers battle technology titans to take the lead in the development of autonomous vehicles.

The Detroit-based automaker, whose shares have risen 25 per cent in recent weeks on investor expectations that it could beat rivals to the introduction of a mass market autonomous vehicle service, will test Chevrolet Bolt fully autonomous electric cars in its most complex market so far: lower Manhattan.

New York governor Andrew Cuomo said GM and Cruise Automation, the autonomous car developer bought by the Detroit icon last year, have applied to be the first in the state to test fully self-driving cars. All testing will include an engineer in the driver's seat to monitor and evaluate performance, and a second person in the passenger seat, he said.

Automotive industry analysts said New York’s challenging road conditions, which include not just heavy traffic but also pedestrians, cyclists, winter weather and some of the world’s most aggressive drivers, could significantly advance the development of the technology in real world conditions. So far, Cruise Automation has been testing autonomous Bolts on public roads in San Francisco; Scottsdale, Arizona; and the Detroit area.

"Testing in New York will accelerate the timeline to deploying self-driving cars at scale. New York City is one of the most densely populated places in the world and provides new opportunities to expose our software to unusual situations, which means we can improve our software at a much faster rate,” said Kyle Vogt, chief executive of Cruise Automation.

"Autonomous vehicles have the potential to save time and save lives, and we are proud to be working with GM and Cruise on the future of this exciting new technology," Governor Cuomo said. New York City recently passed legislation which allows testing in the state as part of a pilot programme.

While GM declined to say whether the New York test would lay the foundation for a network of robo-taxis, the company has previously said that it hoped to be testing autonomous taxi service by 2018. Preparing any such network would require driving tens of thousands of miles for mapping and testing, because autonomous cars require extremely detailed maps to function well.

After GM invested $500m in San Francisco-based Lyft last year, the two said that they would work together to develop a network of autonomous taxis. Lyft has also been pursuing its own self-driving research in-house through its Level Five program.

The first global city to test autonomous taxis was Singapore, another of the world’s most densely populated urban environments. The city-state has been conducting public trials of self-driving cars since last year when it launched a public trial of a robo-taxi service.

Traditional automakers are racing Silicon Valley technology companies to be first to launch self-driving cars as part of a commercial service available to the public.

Last month a note by Deutsche Bank analyst Rod Lache sparked a rally in GM stock after he predicted that GM “will be safely driving passengers in complex urban environments without a human back-up driver within the next few quarters, well ahead of competitors”. He cited briefings with company officials, but GM did not confirm the timing mentioned in the report.

GM shares fell 1.6 per cent on Tuesday after the company’s president, Dan Ammann, dismissed speculation that the automaker would spin off its autonomous and car sharing units, which could raise tens of billions of dollars according to analysts.