General Motors and Cruise AV are currently in the pole position to dominate the self-driving vehicle market, with a plan to deploy a fleet of 2,600 autonomous taxis in 2019. But they need some help from the government. Taking steering wheels and pedals out of vehicles contravenes some national safety regulations. So, Cruise needs to petition the American government to grant it an exemption.
Cruise AV: Self-Driving Taxis
The Cruise AV is a heavily modified version of Chevrolet’s Bolt EV. It boasts 383 km of range. However, the sophisticated computers and sensors in the Cruise AV are guaranteed to draw a significant amount of power form the 60 kWh, lithium-ion battery. So, you can expect its range to be shorter. Of course, that’s not a problem for a fleet that will be operating within the city. Plus, Cruise won’t have to waste money paying drivers to go fuel up. They will, however, need to invest in a fast charging network wherever they deploy their robot taxis.
Cruise teamed up with GM in 2016. In a few short years, they have developed working self-driving prototypes that look ready to revolutionise the driving landscape. But the prototypes (consciously) flout a number (specifically, 16) of NHTSA safety regulations. Reportedly, the NHTSA has approximately 16 regulations that GM would be unable to meet without having drivers, pedals, and steering wheels. For example, the NHTSA requires that all passenger vehicles have airbags located in the steering wheel. Obviously, that’s pretty tough for GM to achieve without a steering wheel. Of course, it can just install the same type of airbags that go on the passenger side.
Ironically, the chief counsel of GM’s mobility division, Paul Hemmersbaugh, is the former chief counsel for NHTSA. The regulations he helped build now stand in his way: “We’re seeking to maintain the same, equal safety but to achieve the safety objectives of some standards in a different way. We can’t achieve them without a human driver or without a steering wheel.
So, how can Cruise AV guarantee total safety while replacing the human driver? With tons of sensors: “Each car alone has 10 cameras that take pictures at 10 frames per second. The car sees more of its environment at once than a human driver can, and therefore can respond more quickly and safely.” Cruise trains the software and sensors by driving on real and test roads. But they can also simulate “horrific traffic accidents” without cost or danger. That way, each self-driving Cruise vehicle will have been exposed to many more driving scenarios than the average person.
It’s unclear when the Cruise AV will make its way north of the border, but within a year of the American debut seems reasonably conservative. However, fruits of GM’s investment are already visible in the current GMC lineup. On the 2018 Yukon, for example, GMC offers available features like Forward Collision Alert, Lane Keep Assist, and Adaptive Cruise Control among other advanced safety features. With all of its sensors and cameras, it can basically drive itself on the highway. So, the idea of driverless taxis being a year away isn’t actually that surprising or aggressive.
Would you take a ride in a modified Chevy Bolt with no pedals or steering wheel? Let us know what you think in the comments below.