GM to use Israeli technology

Auto company looking to tap Israeli know-how to create future cars.

GM 311 (photo credit: Shachar Aharoni)
GM 311
(photo credit: Shachar Aharoni)
Automotive giant General Motors (GM) held the first of what is planned to become an annual conference on automotive innovation in Herzliya on Wednesday. The conference, titled “Cognitive Cars: Driving the Future,” featured lectures by GM staff from the United States and local Israeli research partners, and a showcase of GM experimental vehicles.
In the conference’s keynote address, GM’s vice president of global research and development, Alan Taub, spoke about the company and the auto industry’s development, and about GM’s vision for the future of automobiles.
“The first line in the mission of the new General Motors is ‘to lead the industry in advanced technology.’ If you consider all the challenges that are going on today, that really is a major initiative.
“We are reinventing every part of the vehicle. In order to accomplish that, the research laboratories lead the front end of that innovation process,” said Taub.
“We now have eight research labs around the world, and two years ago we opened our center in Israel. We are proud that this is the first true scientific research laboratory for automotive OAM’s [Operations, Administration and Maintenance] in the country.
“The key is that we need to hire your best and brightest.
Both the people that you educated and then sent around the world, so that they’ll return to Israel, and the students that you’re creating today,” said Taub.
“Our goal in moving here is to tap all the technology, intelligence and knowledge that exists in Israel as we try to satisfy our mission of making the world’s best vehicles.”
In his address, Taub spoke about the evolution of the automotive industry since the beginning of the 20th century and highlighted the challenges encountered and the ways GM faced them, from the introduction of safety features and reducing tailpipe emissions to developing electric vehicles that will one day drive autonomously.
Taub said that after the first autonomous feature, the antilock braking system, or ABS, was introduced in the 1970s, automotive companies and drivers began to understand that there were some tasks computers could do better than human beings.
“That was the beginning of a march toward vehicles that not only will be stable, but will not crash. If you look at the vehicles around the world today, you are beginning to see the march – first towards warning, and in some cases intervention,” said Taub.
“The fact is, we are learning how to point the vehicle in the direction the person’s trying to go and using sensors to determine what’s around. We are on the march toward vehicles that first of all won’t crash and at the same time will drive themselves.
They use the exact same technology.”
Visitors to the conference could get a glimpse of that future in the form of “The Boss.” Named after GM’s first research and development chief, Charles “Boss” Kettering, the Boss is an experimental self-driving vehicle featuring dozens of sensors and other electronic devices mounted on the body of a Chevrolet Tahoe.
The Boss is able to drive, park, and negotiate intersections – all without the aid of human intervention. A joint design of GM and Carnegie Mellon University, it proved its abilities when it beat out 10 other robotic vehicles to win the 2007 United States’ Department of Defense’s urban challenge.
One of the goals of GM’s Israeli Advanced Technology Center is to take the features that exist in experimental form on The Boss and adapt them to normal vehicles at affordable prices.
“It costs between $250,000 and $500,000 to produce a single vehicle like The Boss. The real technological challenge is to take systems that cost that much and reduce them to $25,000,” said Gil Golan, GM’s Israel site director.
“Every sensor on that car costs $3,200. The next generation of sensors costs $70. But that still doesn’t solve our problem.
We need a sensor that costs seven or eight dollars.
“The trick is to leapfrog the technology. We are currently part of an ongoing global initiative by GM and its partners to make the technology more reliable, more doable and more affordable.”
Golan said that the Israeli team was joining the effort on two main fronts: active safety systems and Human-Machine interface.
“Israel has an incredible amount of human talent in the fields we require and also has a very conducive hi-tech environment.
Being here, we enjoy the benefit of working with some of the world class leaders, both in academia and in industry,” said Golan.
“On the other hand,” he said, “we have invested a lot of money here in Israel and introduced the local market to a sector that had not been in existence here before. The fact that GM opened a facility here exposes local researchers and industry people to a huge industry with lots of resources.”
Representing the government at the conference was Dr. Eli Opper, chief scientist of the Ministry of Industry Trade and Labor. Opper spoke about the three pillars of his office’s work: bridging the gap between industry and the academia, strengthening international relationships, and focusing on preferred sectors.
He said that the GM site in Israel answered all three of the principles, and that he hoped partnerships like it would one day lead to technological breakthroughs that are as yet unimaginable.