General Motors (G.M.) has announced that it has petitioned the United States Department of Transportation for permission to operate fully Autonomous vehicles in 2019. The automaker is planning to use its Cruise AV self-driving cars as part of a ride-hailing service next year. The move marks a significant step in the advent of self-driving cars on public roads. The sector has seen massive investments and interest in recent years.
Is the Age of Self-Driving Cars Imminent?
Autonomous vehicles have been the subject of a frenzy of investments and acquisitions lately. The industry is already seeing a race between major automakers and tech firms. As with any new industry, companies are looking to gain market share of the nascent sector.
As a result, G.M is looking to position itself as one of the first companies to successfully launch commercial self-driving cars on public roads. And the American car-maker is quite bullish on its prospects.
While skepticism of autonomous cars remains high, the company believes that deploying the technology at scale is the only way it can succeed. This is where G.M.’s Cruise AV comes in. The car is a fully autonomous vehicle that does away with a steering wheel or pedals and is based on the battery-powered Chevrolet Bolt. G.M. also says it capable of producing the vehicle on a standard assembly line should approval be granted.
However, General Motors isn’t the only company working on self-driving cars. Many other car companies such as Volvo, BMW, and Ford are also working on the technology. In fact, Ford is also working on a version of its own steering wheel and pedal-less car.
That model is not scheduled to hit the road until 2021, however. In addition, a number of Silicon Valley tech companies such as Google’ Waymo have also invested heavily in the field.
Cruise AV Primed for Mass Production
For all the research and development aimed at perfecting self-driving vehicles, many companies had seemed quite a while away from mass production of their models. One of the obstacles companies face is existing regulations, which are largely designed for manned vehicles.
Now, it would seem that G.M. has the jump on its competitors. With the Bolt already in production and the Cruise AV loosely based on the battery-powered model, G.M. has signaled that its autonomous car is ready to hit the roads.
Speaking to the New York Times, Dan Ammann G.M.’s chief financial officer spoke of how the company sees self-driving technology “as only going to have a big impact if we can deploy it at large scale.” G.M.’s plan is to deploy the Cruise as part of a ride-hailing service in one city to begin with.
It seems that the company does not plan to work with existing services in the space such as Uber or Lyft. “We intend to launch a commercial ride-share service at commercial scale in 2019. That will begin in one city and scale up in that city and move to other cities after that.”
For its part, the Cruise AV seems to be one of the first autonomous cars that are now ready for mass production. The vehicle does still feature various radar, camera and sensors technology required for seeing and navigation. With no steering wheel, the Cruise AV features a display screen in its centre console instead.
Self-Driving Car Competition Heats up
But G.M isn’t the only company working on such a car. The recently ended CES expo is proof of that. There, major automakers from around the world showed off various concepts of their future cars. Furthermore, the leading electric car manufacturer, Tesla, already features semi-autonomy in its range of EVs. For Tesla, it would seem that regulatory approval would also free it to unleash autonomous technology in its own cars.
On the other hand, the U.S government currently seems to be taking a cautious approach to self-driving cars on public roads. So whether G.M. gets the permission it has requested only time will tell. It would seem that despite the public’s concerns and slow-moving red tape, autonomous cars are now just around the corner.
Also published on Medium.