General Motors Co. has just announced its new self-driving vehicle unveiling in 2019, which will be controlled by a smart robotic brain without steering wheel and gas pedal. Instead, the auto has several interior screens that passengers can use to communicate with the vehicle.
GM wants to control its own self-driving fleet partly because of the tremendous revenue potential it sees in selling related services, from e-commerce to infotainment, to consumers riding in those vehicles. But before it can use the new vehicles, GM will need special approval from the federal government.
This will be one of the first self-driving vehicles in commercial passenger service and among the first to do away with manual controls for steering, brakes and throttle.
Waymo, which used to be the autonomous auto arm of Alphabet Inc.'s Google, has made a limited number of autonomous vehicles without steering wheels and pedals.
GM said that it has filed a safety petition with the Department of Transportation for the vehicle, which the company claims is now "production-ready". That's the maximum number the government will now allow for each manufacturer.
Based on the Chevy Bolt, the electric Cruise AV will initially be employed in a ride-hailing capacity and operate within a pre-determined, well-mapped "geo-fenced" area, so it won't be entirely off the leash.
The fourth generation auto is production-ready, according to GM's Dan Ammann, who discussed the new vehicle on a press call announcing the news today. Earlier in the fall, the federal government had requested more safety details from the self-driving vehicle industry.
Riders will be able to communicate with a call center with issues, and there are buttons that will stop the vehicle and allow them to exit in the event of an emergency. Arizona is one possible destination, as Cruise is already testing some of its other vehicles there, and the state's regulations are friendly to autonomous vehicles.
This includes having an airbag in what would normally be the driver's seat, but without a steering wheel. Waymo announced in November that it was removing test drivers from the front seat.
That would let the firm launch a fleet of robo-taxis, beating off competition from rivals to launch such a service.