One-box Bliss? Cruise Origin Is GM’s First Ground-up Driverless Vehicle

Did General Motors’ self-driving arm reveal the future on Tuesday night? The automaker and its Cruise LLC subsidiary sure hope so, as both see big, big dollars coming from future autonomous ridesharing fleets.

The Cruise Origin unveiled in San Francisco last night is supposedly the vehicle (don’t call it a car) that will make that revenue stream possible. It certainly doesn’t look like a car, and the difference grows even greater when those side doors part.

Created with help from Honda, which dumped $2.75 million into Cruise back in 2018, securing it a 5.7-percent stake in the company, the Origin is bound for production. It’s also bound, initially, for California roads… once Cruise secures the necessary permits. Unlike other autonomous fleets, which carry a safety driver overseeing the operation of the converted passenger car (like Waymo’s Chrysler Pacifica fleet in Phoenix, or Uber Technology’s Volvo XC90s), there’s nothing for a driver to do in the Origin.

There’s no driver’s seat. No steering wheel, either, and no pedals. As the first ground-up, purpose-built driverless vehicle to come from Cruise, the flat floor and open cabin (to say nothing of the pop-out sliding doors) has more in common with a commuter train carriage than a car. Passengers in the Origin sit facing each other, doors to their side.

Obviously, the powertrain is electric. Origin finds its underpinnings in a new GM-derived platform created specifically for the task of shuttling paying passengers around town in relative silence.

Dan Ammann, CEO of GM’s Cruise division (and former president of GM itself), talked up the awfulness of human-driven passenger vehicles in a blog post.

“Fifty years, and all we’ve gotten is one incremental change after another,” he wrote. “We’re still cramped in a tiny space. We’re still burning fossil fuels, polluting our cities and destroying our planet. We’re still spending hours out of our day stuck in traffic, inventing new swear words. We’re still dying at a rate of more than 3,000 people per day.”

Calling the Origin “our answer to the question about what transportation system you’d build, if you could start from scratch,” Ammann boasted of the vehicle’s advanced sensor suite, which purportedly gives the Origin the ability to better feel out (and respond to) other drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists, as well as the ability to peer through darkness and poor weather. HD maps crafted via LiDAR sensors help guide the vehicle through a city, while other sensors monitor the road ahead and the vehicle’s periphery.

Currently, Cruise operates a self-driving ride-sharing fleet for its San Francisco employees, employing a number of converted Chevrolet Bolts for the task. Those vehicles are responsible for collecting useful data for the Origin project. While Ammann wouldn’t say when he expects production to begin, or when the necessary approvals for full driverless ridesharing operations might land in its lap, he did wrap the Origin in a cloak of safety.

“Every mile in San Francisco is packed full of rich information. Which means the Origin is learning about how people drive, how to maneuver in unusual circumstances, and how to react to situations that seem impossible to predict,” he said. “We’re preparing it to anticipate things that shouldn’t happen, but do.”

The American public remains fairly hesitant to enter a vehicle driven entirely by itself; past incidents involving AVs operated by tech rivals haven’t helped their reputation. Ammann doesn’t want Origin passengers to feel like guinea pigs.

“We’re on track to crack the superhuman threshold in urban environments, and expect to be well past that threshold by the time the Cruise Origin enters production,” he said, referring to a vehicle’s ability to process information and respond quicker and more efficiently than a homo sapien. “We’re looking at safer roads on day one.”

Cruise anticipates the lifespan of an Origin vehicle to be 1 million miles, raising the fleet’s projected profits and lowering the cost of a ride.

this story was kindly lent to us by TTAC

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