GM re­moves steer­ing wheel, ped­als from self-driv­ing Bolt

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Business - Greg Gard­ner Detroit Free Press USA TO­DAY NET­WORK

Look Ma, no hands and no feet. But first, what does Un­cle Sam say?

Gen­eral Mo­tors has asked the govern­ment to ap­prove test fleets of the lat­est it­er­a­tion of its au­ton­o­mous Chevy Bolt, which has no steer­ing wheel, ac­cel­er­a­tor or brake pedal. Such ap­proval is nec­es­sary be­fore any man­u­fac­turer can op­er­ate fully driver­less ve­hi­cles for com­mer­cial pur­poses.

GM said in Novem­ber that it ex­pected to trans­port peo­ple and cargo with self­driv­ing ve­hi­cles in big cities in 2019.

Since ac­quir­ing Cruise Au­to­ma­tion, a San Fran­cisco startup, in spring 2016, GM and Cruise have de­vel­oped four gen­er­a­tions of au­ton­o­mous Chevro­let Bolt EVs. But the last ver­sion has no steer­ing wheel, and no ped­als for ac­cel­er­at­ing or brak­ing.

Those func­tions are han­dled by soft­ware, sen­sors and a laser-guid­ance technology called Li­DAR.

Seven states, in­clud­ing Michi­gan, al­low such ve­hi­cles to be tested with fed­eral ap­proval. The other six are North Carolina, Ten­nessee, Georgia, Texas, Colorado and Ne­vada.

But be­fore a ve­hi­cle can trans­port peo­ple, it must meet a bat­tery of stan­dards set by the Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion. The le­gal prob­lem is that those stan­dards re­quire com­pli­ance through tests with a hu­man driver as well as man­ual steer­ing, ac­cel­er­a­tion and brak­ing con­trols.

Lead­ing this jour­ney through the reg­u­la­tory process is Paul Hem­mers­baugh, for­mer NHTSA gen­eral coun­sel who re­signed from the agency a year ago to join GM as chief coun­sel and pol­icy direc­tor for trans­porta­tion as a ser­vice.

“We are ask­ing NHTSA to give us per­mis­sion to meet the safety stan­dards through a different ap­proach be­cause we can’t achieve them now with­out a hu­man driver or steer­ing wheel,” said Hem­mers­baugh. “When you don’t have a steer­ing wheel it makes no sense to talk about an air bag in the steer­ing wheel.”

But here’s an­other chal­lenge: NHTSA has had no chief since for­mer ad­min­is­tra­tor Mark Rosekind left in Novem­ber 2016. In April he was hired by Zoox, a San Fran­cisco au­ton­o­mous technology firm, as chief safety in­no­va­tion of­fi­cer.

For the last year, Jack Daniel­son, a ca­reer civil ser­vant and fourth in the agency’s chain of com­mand, has run NHTSA. Many key va­can­cies, in­clud­ing per­ma­nent chief coun­sel, direc­tor for govern­ment af­fairs and chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer have not been filled.

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