Self-driving cars take baby steps onto Israel’s roads

General Motors conducting local tests of vehicle thought to be the semi-autonomous Cadillac Super Cruise

Behind the wheel of the CT6 (YouTube screenshot)
Behind the wheel of the CT6 (YouTube screenshot)

Self-driving cars have been making forays on the roads of Israel, including on a Tel Aviv highway.

At an automotive conference held last week by the Tel Aviv Chamber of Commerce and business daily Globes, Gil Golan, director of the Advanced Technical Center of General Motors in Israel, revealed that the ATC has in recent weeks been running tests of driverless vehicles on several roads in Israel.

One of the tests included a drive along Tel Aviv’s Ayalon Freeway, and among the passengers was the Transportation Ministry’s chief scientist, Dr. Shay Sofer.

Golan did not specify which GM model his center has been using for its driverless experiments, but Globes reported that it was likely an advanced version of Cadillac’s CT6 Super Cruise – a semi-autonomous vehicle that kicks into self-driving mode on the highway, and is already on sale in the United States. On the open road, the Super Cruise-equipped CT6 handles braking, acceleration, and steering, with the one requirement of the human driver being to keep eyes on the road, ready to take control of the steering wheel if something goes wrong.

While Golan wouldn’t specify the source of Super Cruise tech, it’s likely that at least some of it was developed at the facility he heads. GM has been operating the Herzliya-based ATC since 1995, and today it has over 300 employees.

“We started working in Israel nearly 20 years ago with some limited projects, but we ramped up activities here in 2007, and have been going strong ever since,” Golan told The Times of Israel in 2013. “Israel is a very important location for GM,” he said.

Among the technologies being developed at the ATC are those needed to power vehicles like the new CT6 as well as the fully autonomous vehicles that will be part of the future of transportation.

“The technologies that will power autonomous vehicles including smart sensing, vision imaging, human machine interface, wifi and 4G/LTE communications, and much of that is being done at our Herzliya facility, in conjunction with GM’s other R&D facility in Silicon Valley,” said Golan. “To stay on top of the market you have to be versatile, and the Israel ATC helps the company to do that.”

At a panel discussion during last week’s conference, Golan said that there was “no way to stop” the future of autonomous driving. Along with advancement in autonomous vehicles will come a gradual conversion to all-electric engines, he said, with electricity to power the vehicles made cheaper thanks to vehicle rooftop solar energy systems that are being developed to maintain and recharge batteries while a vehicle is being operated.

Israel has become a center for car technology in recent years, especially in the area of autonomous vehicle development. Besides GM, manufacturers such as Toyota, Skoda, Fiat, Ford, Honda, Renault-Nissan, Volvo, BMW, Hyundai, and others either have R&D centers in Israel or have developed partnerships with Israeli firms to develop technologies for self-driving vehicles.

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