“General Motors filed a Safety Petition with the Department of Transportation for its fourth-generation self-driving Cruise AV, the first production-ready vehicle built from the start to operate safely on its own, with no driver, steering wheel, pedals or manual controls.”
“GM’s Cruise AV is equipped with the automaker’s fourth-generation self-driving software and hardware, including 21 radars, 16 cameras and five lidars — sensing devices that use laser light to help autonomous cars “see” nearby objects and obstacles.”
“GM executives said seven U.S. states already allow the alterations sought by the automaker. In other states — including those that stipulate a car must have a licensed human driver — GM will work with regulators to change or get a waiver from existing rules.”
Read the whole thing. One of the great stories of the self-driving car revolution continues to be that GM has found a way to make the Cruise acquisition work.
We are working on an on-demand ride-sharing network with Lyft, it’s not something we are thinking about, it’s something we are very much readying for consumer use.
That’s about the extent of the news, though. Open questions include what cities this will operate in, what the launch schedule is, how much the cars will cost, what kind of sensors they use, if they will even have a steering wheel, and when they will be available for purchase outside the Lyft network.
The reports have been pretty light on details, so there’s not much comment on.
One thought is that this would be awesome.
Another is that I’d love to see some firmer details around this prediction. For example, how many cars will there be and how tightly geo-fenced will the routes be?
I was trying to think of how likely I believe this prediction is to come to pass, but it’s impossible to put a finger on that without firmer details.
A third thought is that this would show a remarkably successful and fast integration of the Cruise acquisition into GM.
My last thought is that asking people take a ride in an autonomous vehicle is probably a smaller lift than asking them to purchase one outright. So this seems like a smart way for Lyft to introduce their AVs.
For self-driving car enthusiasts, this is the Level 4 vs. Level 3 distinction.
In layman’s terms, this is the difference between fully autonomous vehicles, and vehicles that have self-driving features but require a human driver.
The Level 4 (fully autonomous) approach is championed by Google and Ford:
Ken Washington, Ford’s head of research and advanced engineering, insists there is no alternative to the company’s approach. There is “no reliable model” for handing control back to drivers in semi-autonomous vehicles at short notice, he says, as systems like GM’s Super Cruise demand in certain situations.
“If you’re told you don’t need to pay attention to something, you could go to sleep and, in a matter of a few milliseconds, you could be told you have to wake up, have your wits about you, that the vehicle needs you to take control,” he adds.
Of course, GM believes differently:
GM’s incremental strategy on self-driving cars is similar to that of most automakers, including Sweden’s Volvo. Germany’s Daimler and Tesla of the US, the electric car manufacturer, already offer systems similar to Super Cruise on some vehicles.
Eric Raphael, GM programme manager for Super Cruise, says the company is building up from existing systems such as cruise control because it is a “big step” to start entrusting even limited driving entirely to vehicles.
I find both approaches exciting. Ultimately, though, the sooner we can get to Level 4 and all of its attendant benefits, the better.
“Doug Parks, GM’s vice president for global product programs, will become vice president for autonomous technology and vehicle execution, reporting to Mark Reuss, head of global product development. Parks will oversee efforts to develop new electrical and battery systems and software for autonomous and electric vehicles, GM said in a statement. The appointments will be effective Feb. 1.”
That description sounds mostly like a re-org, which is less inspiring than we might hope. My experience is that re-orgs are rarely helpful.
What would be great is to see GM pour more resources into an off-site autonomous vehicle center, or bring in some key hires, or build up a team with new hires, even if it takes cuts to other parts of the business.
This is obviously a huge investment, and a strategic investment, different than if a generic financial firm had fronted the cash.
“GM and Lyft said they will work together to develop a network of self-driving cars that riders can call up on-demand,” reports the Charlotte Observer.
“More immediately, America’s largest automaker will offer Lyft drivers vehicles for short-term rent through various hubs in U.S. cities.”
A driver in this transaction is certainly a fear that self-driving cars, combined with ride-sharing services, will up-end GM’s business model.
“Traditional automakers’ reluctance to make bold moves is linked to the fact that self-driving technology could fundamentally undermine the auto industry’s core business model: selling cars to people.”
S auto sales are booming, which provides money for R&D. Along those lines, GM has just announced that Super-Cruise hands-free driving will appear in Cadillacs next year.
This is a great step forward technologically, although it’s unclear how important this highway-only, handsfree mode will be to consumers.
“It’s going to be a creep, it’s not going to be a mind-bending thing,” said GM’s product development chief Mark Reuss earlier this year. “I don’t think you’re going to see an autonomous vehicle take over the city anytime soon.”
I’m reminded a little bit of the first touch-screen phones. When I worked at mSpot, I managed a few of our products that ported to the Samsung Instinct, which was pretty buggy and not so functional.
Anyone judging the future of smartphones by using the Instinct could have been forgiven for doubting the whole endeavor.
But the iPhone the phones improved rapidly, due to competition and consumer demand, and by 2010 nobody doubted the importance of smartphones.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar story play out with the first autonomous driving systems.