General Motors (GM) and Cruise Automation, the autonomous-car startup it acquired for more than $1 billion last year, have finalized a production design for an autonomous version of GM’s Chevy Bolt, Cruise’s CEO Kyle Vogt announced.
GM has already started building the vehicles, with 50 coming off the line so far, and is set to increase production as it simultaneously works to improve its autonomous-driving software for wide release.
Creating a production design is a significant step for GM and Cruise. It means that they won’t have to rely on retrofitted vehicles to test autonomous systems, for instance, like competitors such as Ford and Volvo generally do in their public tests. Instead, the sensors that provide data for the autonomous system are built directly into the vehicle. Vogt pointed out that external sensors needed frequent repairs, so this will improve reliability and make the cars more consumer-ready.
The autonomous system also has complete redundancy built in, meaning that hardware and software components could fail and the vehicle will still be able to drive itself safely. This redundancy is critical for fully autonomous vehicles, as they need to be able to cope with failure without needing to turn to a driver to take control. That means that all sensors need backups, and there needs to be a secondary computer able to take over processing and routing controls. These requirements make fully autonomous cars much more difficult to design and expensive to produce.
Developing a production design is a key step in the process of getting self-driving cars beyond testing. For now, GM will use semi-autonomous Chevy Bolts as part of its “Cruise Anywhere” ride-hailing service that’s available to Cruise employees in San Francisco already. Vogt said that these autonomous vehicles are going to end up in managed fleets rather than in the hands of consumers, which is a necessity due to the costs redundant systems require. But as these vehicles start to roll off production lines, it will be a clear step forward in the forecasted rise of fully autonomous cars.