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GM buys self-driving car tech start-up

Cruise control: GM president Dan Ammann (right) with Cruise Automation co-founders Kyle Vogt (centre) and Daniel Kan (left).

Auto-pilot car tech developer snapped up by GM to advance autonomous vehicles

15 Mar 2016

GENERAL Motors has reportedly paid more than $US1 billion ($A1.33b) for car auto pilot technology start-up Cruise Automation, in an effort to accelerate its progress towards autonomous vehicles.

The move comes as the United States Congress is urged by rival technology giant, Google, to re-write federal legislation to allow transportation authorities to more rapidly approve the general sale of self-driving cars for safety reasons.

GM's acquisition of three-year-old Cruise Automation was announced by GM president Dan Ammann who said fully autonomous vehicles would bring enormous benefits in convenience, cost and safety.

The San Francisco-based tech company will operate as a unit within GM's recently formed autonomous vehicle technology team once the paperwork has been finalised in the next few months.

Cruise Automation is just the latest technology start-up company to be built and sold by billionaire new-tech whiz-kid Kyle Vogt, whose previous successes include Justin.TV and Twitch. The former reportedly was sold for more than a $1 billion to Amazon.

GM did not say how much it paid for Cruise Automation, but the American press is speculating it was more than a billion dollars.

Cruise Automation was created to develop after-market autonomous driving kits that could be bolted into a conventional car to create a form of autopilot for $US10,000 ($A13,000) on suitable late-model cars such as the Audi A4.

The system uses roof-mounted sensors linked with a computer in the boot and electric motors on the steering column.

According to GM, the technology developed by Cruise Automation has been tested in San Francisco's challenging city environment.

Clearly, GM has spotted something within the technology that it wants for its own vehicles - most likely something covered by well-held patents.

GM executive vice president of global product development Mark Reuss said Cruise Automation would provide GM with a unique technology advantage that is unmatched in our industry".

"We intend to invest significantly to further grow the talent base and capabilities already established by the Cruise team,” he said.

Cruise Automation is the latest in a series of recent acquisitions and alliances created by GM to advance its vision on "new mobility".

In January, it inked an agreement to enter into a joint venture with the Lyft ride-sharing company which it sees as an ideal outlet for its upcoming Bolt electric car.

It also has established its own ride-sharing operation, Maven, that it plans to progressively roll out in US major cities.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that the head of Google's self-driving car program, Chris Urmson, this week will urge the US congress to grant national auto safety regulators new authority to speed the introduction of self-driving cars on American roads.

According to a prepared statement to be presented to the Senate Commerce Committee, the change in legislation is required to cover the proper regulation and sales of autonomous vehicles.

"We propose that congress move swiftly to provide the secretary of transportation with new authority to approve life-saving safety innovations," the statement said.

"This new authority would permit the deployment of innovative safety technologies that meet or exceed the level of safety required by existing federal standards, while ensuring a prompt and transparent process," it said.

Google wants the federal congress to act to head off state-by-state legislation that could result in a dog's breakfast of rules.

In California, draft rules will bar autonomous vehicles without human controls or a licensed driver.

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