General Motors Co. said Jan. 12 it has asked the Department of Transportation to approve a safety petition under which it would begin operating a fleet of self-driving cars next year in a ride-sharing service, using vehicles that have no steering wheels, pedals or other manual controls.
GM said its "Cruise AV" automated vehicles – based on the Chevrolet Bolt EV [for electric vehicle] and built in Orion Township, Mich., -- have undergone extensive testing of its self-driving and collision-avoidance technologies, along with "sufficient simulations and crash testing of our self-driving vehicle prototypes to show the effectiveness" of the systems.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao told the Detroit auto show Jan. 14 that an automaker had filed a petition with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration "requesting an exemption to have a limited number of autonomous vehicles operate in a controlled ride-share program."
She used it as an example of highly automated vehicles reaching the market, adding that "it is not an exaggeration to suggest that these technology developments are happening very quickly."
Chao said the USDOT "will review this petition, and give it responsible and careful consideration."
GM said that "when we deploy our self-driving vehicles, customers will use a mobile app to request a ride, just like they use ride-sharing today. The only difference is that customers will control the experience – their customized climate control and radio station settings will be sent to the vehicle ahead of when they access their ride. Our fleet operations will send a vehicle to a customer's location for pickup and transport to the desired destination."
The Washington Post reported GM has been testing earlier versions of the automated car, with an engineer in the driver's seat behind a steering wheel, on streets in San Francisco and Phoenix, and now want to use the latest generation in multiple cities.
The company said it will make a "controlled deployment" of the AV ride-sharing service.
"Our self-driving vehicles will drive only in known geo-fenced boundaries, and only on roads for which we have developed high-definition map data," GM said. "They will also drive only under known operational conditions and constraints that apply to the entire fleet. We will make sure they are serviced and maintained so that the vehicles' critical systems remain operational and support safe driving."
It also said its AV fleet will learn as it goes.
"We will monitor the vehicles and collect data on their performance. As this data is used to identify opportunities for improvements in self-driving operation, we will update the software in all the vehicles – so the entire fleet will continue to get better, and so will future generations of our self-driving vehicles. When one car experiences something new, that data is sent back to the operations center and every other vehicle in our fleet learns from it."
As for how riders will interact with a car that drives itself, without gear that allows them to take over, GM said it has various devices riders can use.
"Passengers will be able to communicate with remote support personnel with the press of a button. There's another button for passengers to press if they want to end a ride because of an emergency. Support personnel may also initiate contact with vehicle passengers in certain circumstances where assistance may be needed, or if a passenger forgets an item in the vehicle after the end of a ride. Once the ride is over, if passengers forget to close the doors, the vehicle can close them itself and move on to the next customer."
Above image / GM
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