As part of its effort to bring self-driving vehicles to market, GM has claimed today that their autonomous driving division has produced “the first real self-driving car (really).”
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In June, GM announced the completion of the first batch of 130 Chevy Bolt EV autonomous prototypes at its Orion Assembly Plant located in Orion Township, Michigan.
Those second generation autonomous vehicles have been operating in test fleets in California, Arizona, and Michigan, as part of a program by Cruise Automation’s, a self-driving startup acquired by GM.
Now what GM is calling “the first real self-driving car” is the third generation of this vehicle built on the Bolt EV – pictured above and below.
Kyle Vogt, CEO and founder of Cruise Automation, wrote in a Medium post:
“The car we’re unveiling today is actually our 3rd generation self-driving car, but it’s the first that meets the redundancy and safety requirements we believe are necessary to operate without a driver. There’s no other car like this in existence. In a few weeks, these cars will be a part of the fleet that carries Cruise employees anywhere in San Francisco using our app. “
Here’s a diagram of the new car and a unit on the production line:
Vogt says that they added a lot of redundancy to the car’s systems with the latest generation:
“Unlike the previous generations, which were similar to Chevrolet Bolt EV design, the vehicles we’re unveiling today have almost completely new and fault-tolerant electrical, communication, and actuation systems that are unique to a driverless vehicle.”
He added that the vehicle is designed to be mass-produced at the plant:
“It’s assembled in a high-volume assembly plant capable of producing 100,000’s of vehicles per year, and we’d like to keep that plant busy.”
Of course, he is talking about the Orion plant where GM already produces the Bolt EV – most of them without self-driving sensors.
Cruise Automation will integrate those new vehicles to its test fleet as it validates the software and waits for regulatory approval. They didn’t offer any timetable for the rollout.
In the meantime, they keep us updated with impressive real-world self-driving demoes of their Bolt EV prototypes. The latest featured an impressive night drive during which a self-driving Chevy Bolt EV prototype even slowed down for a raccoon.
While it’s impressive that GM and Cruise went through 3 generations of their self-driving platform in just over a year, it’s not clear how their claim of having “the first real self-driving car for mass production” stands.
They have a vehicle equipped with what they believe is all the hardware necessary to enable fully self-driving capability and now they are working on software and regulatory approval.
Sounds familiar? That’s exactly the same claim that Tesla has been making about all its vehicles since October 2016 when they introduced the second generation Autopilot hardware.
What is interesting here is that if we assume that they are both right, it’s all just about completing the software and they could eventual flip a switch to make fleets of vehicles completely autonomous.
There’s also the problem of regulations, but the new self-driving act, which is currently going through the federal legislative process, could simplify the rollout. We are looking at an interesting year to come in the race to develop self-driving vehicles.