Plans on track for ride-sharing fleet in 2019 with no steering wheel or pedals
General Motors has unveiled the Cruise AV, its first production-ready, fully autonomous car to be used for its driverless ride-hailing fleet in 2019.
Based on the Chevrolet Bolt EV, it is a dedicated self-driving, pure electric sedan with no steering wheel or pedals. That means every seat is a passenger seat, and that the car relies on artificial intelligence and related technology to be the driver.
This is the fourth-generation autonomous vehicle in 18 months that GM has developed with Cruise Automation, the company it bought in 2016. And it won’t be the last, said GM President Dan Ammann. The work started by retrofitting vehicles with lidar, sensors, and other equipment to read the surroundings and make drive decisions but the end goal was always a bespoke self-driving car.
GM showed the third-generation test vehicle in October and has been using a geo-fenced portion of San Francisco for testing, a suitably tricky test bed to ensure vehicles can handle any situation. In October GM had built about 50 vehicles for testing by Cruise employees in the Bay Area. Testing of additional Bolts is also being done in Phoenix and will also be done in New York City this year to test the vehicles in a harsher climate but the public is only allowed in the San Francisco fleet.
The next step is putting this new production vehicle, made on the assembly line in Orion, Michigan, on the road in 2019.
The other hurdle is ensuring all regulatory barriers are removed. There are about 16 motor vehicle safety regulations that do not apply to driverless cars, such as those dealing with airbags in a steering wheel when there is no steering wheel. GM today submitted safety petitions to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that would achieve the same safety standards but through different means. Approval is needed to deploy the Cruise AV on public roads as planned in 2019.
GM also must meet all state laws and is working to change laws where necessary. So far autonomous driving is only allowed in about seven states including California and Michigan.
The automaker is not saying where and when in 2019 it will first deploy the autonomous ride-share vehicles although California seems like a safe bet.
Officials are also not saying how big the fleet will be, but the NHTSA safety petitions allow for up to 2,500 vehicles. Ammann said there is ample capacity at the Orion, Michigan, plant that builds the Bolt and will make the autonomous cars. The idea is to eventually make hundreds of thousands of self-driving vehicles a year, much like conventional vehicles today.
Amman said this is the kind of advancement that will have a big impact on the world as the goal is to make transportation more affordable and acceptable and have widespread adoption. GM has said the cost of shared rides could be less than $1 per mile by 2025 and the automaker sees potential for this becoming a core part of its business.
The automaker has developed a self-driving safety report and put it on its website for the public to view. It provides an overview of the mission for safe roads, how the vehicles was designed, how it works, the redundant computing, electrical, braking and other systems that act as backup if anything fails.
One feature will be the car’s ability to close the door itself if the passenger fails to, said Doug Parks, GM vice president of autonomous technology. Details are still being worked out.
Parks said they are also working to ensure they have a good supply of affordable lidar systems and other solutions to meet future demand.