US auto giant General Motors has unveiled its first electric autonomous vehicle – a six-seater taxi that doesn’t have a steering wheel.
The Cruise Origin is the result of a collaboration between GM, its self-driving subsidiary Cruise and Honda.
Cruise was acquired by GM in 2016 and is now the company’s autonomous vehicle arm, although it operates with a significant degree of independence.
The Origin is a fully-electric, six-seat rear wheel drive taxi. There is no ‘driver’ and passengers can’t take control of the vehicle.
The lack of a combustion engine and steering wheel means passengers can sit in rows of three facing each other while banks of sensors and radars guide the car safely.
You won’t see the car any time soon as no production date, production location or price have been set.
But Cruise already has one model, the Cruise Bolt, in road tests in San Francisco, although there’s normally a non-driving human on board to comply with the law.
The Origin is designed not just to be non-polluting and efficient. It’s aimed at filling the gap between large public transport vehicles and smaller cars and micro-mobility vehicles like scooters.
GM claims each vehicle could last up to 1 million miles, although this will need to be thoroughly tested by independent experts before this claim can be upheld.
Removing the driver adds an extra seat, and artificial intelligence should make passenger pick-ups cheap and timely.
Its business case is that city dwellers don’t need to own a car, they simply pay for a seat on a ride-hailing service like Origin and get picked up by one of a fleet of vehicles constantly on duty.
GM claims this will save the average city inhabitant up to $5,000 a year compared to a normal car.
The design of the Origin is rectangular and boxy, which allows the seats to be placed over the wheels and axles, leaving lots of legroom inside.
The vehicle floor is flat and close to the ground for ease of access. The doors slide back rather than open outwards, to avoid hitting bikers and cyclists.
It comes with air bags, an SOS button, and a camera on the roof of the interior, presumably to deploy analyse passenger behaviour and to prevent vandalism.
Although no production plans were given, the Origin is based on General Motor’s new modular all-electric platform, which means it can go into production relatively easily.
Using this platform also means the Origin will be upgradeable, says GM, and improved sensors and batteries can be retro-fitted post-sale.
Cruise says the Origin will be safer than conventional vehicles thanks to its array of rain and fog-piercing sensors. This of course will be the feature most closely watched – and thoroughly tested – by regulators and lawyers.
California is the world’s biggest testing ground for self-driving cars, and they are regularly seen on the streets of San Francisco, with most containing a non-driving human for legal reasons.
The Cruise Bolt is a special version of the Chevrolet Bolt electric car that is regularly see being tested. It has traditional front and passenger seats and the ‘driver’ can intervene if necessary.
Well over 150 have been made at a GM plant in Michigan with drive control algorithms and AI developed by Cruise. It uses lidar, radar, cameras and over-the-wire traffic intelligence to navigate.
Originally, GM had hoped to start sales of the Cruise Origin by now, but US legal issues, including safety and legal liability, have thwarted the launch plans.