GM car gives up steer­ing wheel, ped­als

The Washington Post - - ECONOMY & BUSINESS - BY PETER HOLLEY peter.holley@wash­ More at wash­ing­ton­ news/ in­no­va­tions

The fu­ture of driv­ing doesn’t in­volve driv­ing — at all.

That’s the big take­away from a first peek in­side Gen­eral Mo­tors’ new au­ton­o­mous car, which lacks the steer­ing wheel, ped­als, man­ual con­trols and hu­man driv­ers that have come to de­fine the ex­pe­ri­ence of rid­ing in­side an au­to­mo­bile for more than a cen­tury.

That means the Cruise AV — a fourth-gen­er­a­tion au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle based on the Chevy Bolt EV — is in to­tal con­trol.

GM sub­mit­ted a pe­ti­tion Thurs­day to the Trans­porta­tion De­part­ment, ask­ing for the govern­ment to let it roll out the new ve­hi­cle, which it says is safe. GM plans to mass-pro­duce the ve­hi­cle as early as next year, the au­to­mo­tive gi­ant an­nounced Fri­day. The man­u­fac­turer is tout­ing the ve­hi­cle as the world’s “first pro­duc­tion-ready ve­hi­cle” built with the sole pur­pose of op­er­at­ing “safely on its own with no driver,” a de­gree of in­de­pen­dence known as “Level 4” au­ton­omy.

GM is far from the only com­pany test­ing Level 4 ve­hi­cles. A Cal­i­for­nia-based AV start-up named Zoox and Al­pha­bet’s Waymo do, too.

“We view this as be­ing a very im­por­tant next step in our plan to de­ploy self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles at scale in 2019, and it’s all part of our mis­sion to move to a world of zero crashes,” said Ray Wert, head of sto­ry­telling and ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy com­mu­ni­ca­tions at GM.

GM is al­ready test­ing sec­on­dand third-gen­er­a­tion self-driv­ing Cruise AVs on busy streets in San Fran­cisco and Phoenix with a hu­man en­gi­neer in the ve­hi­cle. It re­lies on cam­eras, radar and high­pre­ci­sion laser sen­sors known as “li­dar” for nav­i­ga­tion.

Be­gin­ning in 2019, the fourth gen­er­a­tion of that ve­hi­cle will be used in a ride-shar­ing pro­gram in mul­ti­ple Amer­i­can cities, where “the ve­hi­cles will travel on a fixed route con­trolled by their map­ping sys­tem,” Bloomberg News re­ported.

To im­prove safety, the ve­hi­cles will share in­for­ma­tion with one an­other and rely on two com­puter sys­tems, which op­er­ate si­mul­ta­ne­ously so that if one com­puter en­coun­ters a prob­lem, the sec­ond com­puter can serve as a backup, ac­cord­ing to GM’s self-driv­ing safety re­port that it sub­mit­ted to the Trans­porta­tion De­part­ment.

The re­port says the Cruise AV was de­signed to op­er­ate in chaotic, fluid con­di­tions, such as with ag­gres­sive driv­ers, jay­walk­ers, bi­cy­clists, de­liv­ery trucks and con­struc­tion.

“With its ad­vanced sen­sor sys­tems, the Cruise AV has the ca­pa­bil­ity to see the en­vi­ron­ment around it, in 360 de­grees, day and night,” the safety re­port adds. “It is de­signed to iden­tify pedes­tri­ans in a cross­walk, or an ob­ject dart­ing sud­denly into its path, and to re­spond ac­cord­ingly. It can ma­neu­ver through con­struc­tion cones, yield to emer­gency ve­hi­cles and re­act to avoid col­li­sions.”

As The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported last month, the am­bi­tious time­line GM has set for get­ting the Cruise AV on the road could place the au­tomaker in an en­vi­able po­si­tion — the unique abil­ity to pro­vide ex­ist­ing ride-hail­ing com­pa­nies such as Lyft or Uber with a grow­ing fleet of au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles or, bet­ter yet, to un­leash GM’s own ser­vice.

The com­pany has ac­cess to vast deal­er­ship net­works, na­tion­wide in­flu­ence and man­u­fac­tur­ing prow­ess, po­ten­tially of­fer­ing a GM-driven ride-hail­ing ser­vice the op­por­tu­nity to sup­plant the Sil­i­con Val­ley start-ups that have been seek­ing for years to dis­rupt the auto in­dus­try.

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