General Motors Wants No Steering Wheels in their Autonomous Cars

General motor’s bold plan for the future of their autonomous cars is simple – get rid of the steering wheel and regain valuable cockpit space. However, they are facing a fight from the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which requires there be a way to control the car in case the AI malfunctions. We’re still in the early days of self-driving cars, and disasters leading to the death of humans have already occurred with some autonomous vehicles. However, GM is petitioning the NHTSA to allow them to remove this safety feature, confident of the ability of their AI to drive safely.

The First On the Streets

If the wild plan is greenlit, the GM would be the first company in the US to have cars on the road without steering wheels. Waymo, the Google-based competitor to GM, recently got rid of their human caretakers for vehicles. Even so, Waymo’s autonomous taxis still have pedals and steering wheels. The administrator of the NHTSA James Owens believes that the time is ripe for the authority to consider getting rid of steering wheels. While he didn’t outright say that the NHTSA would allow the removal, he did hint that they would deliver a ruling on it sometime in 2020.

Rapid Development Leading to Change

There are different levels of autonomous vehicles. Levels 0 to 3 all require human intervention, although the level of interaction with the car decreases with each step upwards. Level 4 (called high automation) still needs a human being to be present for starting, braking, steering, throttle, and parking. However, in the right settings, the car can drive itself, given there aren’t too many other cars or traffic around it. Level 5 is full automation where the vehicle can drive itself completely, not necessarily needing a human. So far, vehicle manufacturers have been at level 4, but until they make it to level 5, removing the steering wheel may be a premature measure.