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First Mass-Produced Self-Driving Cars En Route

By: Bridget Clerkin September 14, 2017
Cruise Automation co-founders Daniel Kim (left) and Kyle Vogt (center) with General Motors President Dan Ammann (right).

If you build it, will they come? General Motors certainly hopes so.

The company holds the plans to create the world’s first mass-produced autonomous vehicle, with the capability of assembling hundreds of thousands of the cars each year.

Complete with everything from airbags to crumple zones, the model was designed by Cruise Automation, a self-driving start-up GM purchased last year. The car is actually the 3rd generation autonomous auto the company has come up with, but it’s the first that meets the appropriate redundancy and safety requirements to run without a driver, according to Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt, who announced the mass-production plans.

While dozens of companies from Detroit to Silicon Valley have a hand in developing the self-driving software of future vehicles, the Cruise Automation plans are the first to tackle the issue of hardware—or, the car itself.

Earlier self-driving prototypes developed by GM and Cruise—including the Chevrolet Bolt EV—were created by retrofitting existing models in the GM lineup. But making a truly autonomous vehicle, and accounting for all the appropriate critical systems of a self-driving car, ultimately requires too many changes to rely on past designs, Vogt said in the announcement.

The new design takes into account details like the placement of sensors and other radar systems, moving the equipment to create a cleaner and more streamlined vehicle overall. Hardware parts have also shifted, with more found beneath the vehicle’s sheet metal than in previous models. All told, Vogt said around 40% of the parts are new compared to previous Bolt models.

Their mettle will soon be tested directly, as some of the cars will be incorporated into the driverless fleet that currently shuttles Cruise employees to and from work in San Francisco, Vogt said in the announcement.

But just because they can be made on a large scale doesn’t mean the cars will be hitting the streets en masse anytime soon. The company said it’s waiting for federal regulations to be announced before it gets the assembly line moving.

Once the government green-lights those policies, however, the race to make autonomous autos will be on, and GM will be able to start off fast and furious.

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