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Self-driving Cars and Other Automotive Technologies

Imagine you’re a passenger in a car that’s zipping down the highway. The landscape on both sides is a blur. The car’s brake and gas pedals, even its steering wheel, move as thou…

Imagine you’re a passenger in a car that’s zipping down the highway. The landscape on both sides is a blur. The car’s brake and gas pedals, even its steering wheel, move as though a phantom driver is in control. But you know better. There is no driver.

If this sounds like the part where you wake up screaming, relax; self-driving cars aren’t expected to be commonplace for years. Such vehicles are being tested and even used in limited settings – with passengers.

Called “autonomous” or “self-driving,” these cars can “perceive” their environments and avoid accidents; Since they will be a lot “smarter” than us humans, developers say automotive crash fatalities and injuries could fall to virtually zero. That means you should be just fine after reaching your destination in an autonomous car.

Jeff Worrall, owner of Don’s Auto Fleet Services in Lansing, said that while they haven’t worked on a fully autonomous vehicle, he and his technicians do see vehicles with advanced driver-assist capabilities such as lane-departure warning and lane-centering assistance. He thinks the new technologies are exciting.

“We haven’t performed repairs related to advanced driver-assist as most of these vehicles are still under warranty,” said Worrall. “We have done alignments on vehicles with those features, and they require some advanced procedures to make sure the camera and detection systems remain in alignment.”

Steve Freemire, a licensed insurance agent with the Hacker-King-Sherry Agency in East Lansing, pointed to an industry magazine article showing a price breakdown of adaptive and standard headlamps. Adaptive headlamps have sensors that cast a curved beam to improve visibility. Because of their complexity, adaptive headlamps can cost from 1.5 to 2.5 times the price of a standard headlamp.

“When I was a teen, you went to Meijer and bought a headlight for $9.88. You’ll see in the article that the cost of a headlight has exploded.” said Freemire.

Indeed, the costs of the three adaptive headlamps cited in the article ranged from $940 to $3,274. Freemire said that driverless cars will, in theory, shift legal liability from the driver to the product manufacturer. While the cost of adaptive products is higher than standard equipment, cost savings in other areas, such as hospitalizations and life care costs, could drop to nothing – again, in theory.

During an interview with Greater Lansing Business Monthly about Dean Transportation’s 50th anniversary, Vice President Patrick Dean touched on the topic of emerging technologies.

“At Dean, we see the assistive capabilities available today as building blocks for what’s to come, including self-driving vehicles,” he said. “These technologies are challenging because when companies embrace one, a new one is right on its heels. But we’re ready for that challenge.” 

Lansing’s General Motors products include some of the newer technologies as well. On Feb. 15, GM Plant Executive Director Marcos Purty received the Black Engineer of the Year Career Achievement Award. At the event that took place in Washington, D.C., General Motors Chairman and CEO Mary Barra said, “Driving the future of mobility will depend on a deep and diverse talent pool that can bring their whole selves to work. As our industry continues to evolve, leveraging our diverse talent and empowering employees to infuse unique perspectives into all we do will position GM to shape the future of mobility and achieve our vision of a world with zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion.”

Zero crashes. Getting there will involve some smart, probably autonomous, vehicles.

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