General Motor’s Cruise heads down new road with new robotaxi concept

GM Cruise Automation

General Motors’ self-driving car company will try to deliver on its long-running promise to offer a more environmentally friendly ride-hailing service in an unorthodox vehicle designated to remove the need for human operators to transport people around crowded locations.

The service is currently being developed by automaker’s Cruise subsidiary will depend on a boxy, electric-powered vehicle called “Origin” that was revealed late Tuesday in San Francisco amid much fanfare. It appears like a cross between a mini-van and sports utility vehicle with one great exception — it won’t include any steering wheel or brakes. The Origin will accommodate up to four passengers at a moment, although a single customer will be able to summon it for a ride just as people currently can ask for a car with an individual behind the wheel from Uber or Lyft.

For all the hype around the Origin’s revealing, Cruise omitted some major details, including when its ride-hailing service will be available and how many of the automobiles will be in its fleet. The company signalled it will initially only be available in San Francisco, where Cruise has currently been offering a ride-hailing service that’s only available to its approximately 1,000 workers.

By removing the need for a human to drive, Cruise theoretically will be able to provide a less expensive way to get around — a goal already being pursued by self-driving auto pioneer Waymo, a Google spinoff that has been testing robotaxis in the Phoenix area for almost three years.

Cruise had prepared to have a robotaxi service including Chevrolet Bolts working without human backup drivers by the end of last year, but moved away from that last year following one of Uber’s autonomous test vehicles ran down and killed a pedestrian in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe, Arizona, during 2018.

Still aware of the fallout from that fatal crash, Cruise is promising “superhuman performance” from the Cruise, which GM thinks about manufacturing at half the cost of comparable vehicles using fuel-combustion engines. GM also expects to reveal where the Origin will be made under the next few weeks, Cruise CEO Dan Amman stated.

The Origin won’t be sold to consumers however. “It is not a product you can purchase, but an experience you share,” Amman stated.

The Origin is responsible for another major step for Cruise, which had only 40 workers when GM purchased it in 2016 as part of its attempt to catch up in the race to construct cars that can drive themselves. Since then, Cruise has attracted over $6 billion from investors, consisting of $2.75 billion from Honda and $2.25 billion from Japanese firm SoftBank. Honda also assisted in the development of the Origin.

GM presently values Cruise at $19 billion, echoing one of the less-known view that the subsidiary may eventually be spun off as a publicly-traded company.

Whenever Cruise’s ride-hailing service makes its debut, it will still be going after Waymo, whose work on self-driving car technology started inside of Google more than 10 years ago.

Waymo’s Phoenix-area service already has given over 100,000 rides, according to the company. It expanded beyond the test phase service 13 months ago with a ride-hailing app that has currently about 1,500 active monthly riders, Waymo states.

By comparison, ride-hailing leader Uber has now about 103 million active monthly users with a service that depends on human drivers — a dependence that is the main factor that the company has been losing money throughout its history. Uber is still attempting to create a fleet of robotic taxis as part of its question to become profitable.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has also vowed that his company’s electric cars will be able to drive themselves without intervention of a human before the end of this year so they can moonlight as taxis when their owners don’t need the automobiles, but industry analysts question if such a promise will come to reality.

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