General Motors has let it be known, this week, that by next year, their new vehicles will no loner need a driver. That is because, of course, GM is hopping on the latest trend of making and releasing autonomous vehicles. For its maiden voyage into these new waters, GM has added a new robot brain to its Chevrolet Bolt model. More importantly, though, is not what they have added but what they have removed.
Indeed, GM has taken both the steering wheel and the pedals out of the driver’s seat.
The car company will begin testing these new autonomous electric sedans in San Francisco soon, as part of its ride-sharing fleet. And when this happens, the new Chevy Bolt models could be the very first production-ready vehicles to hit the city streets without the tools which allow for human control.
“What’s really special about this is if you look back 20 years from now, its the first car without a steering wheel and pedals,” explains Kyle Vogt, the chief executive officer of Cruise Automation, which is the San Francisco-based unit in charge of developing GM’s self-driving cars’ software.
Of course, before any vehicle can be allowed to transport people, it must first meet a gambit of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) standards. The irony, perhaps, is that these standards typically require compliance via human driver tests; and they also require manual steering, acceleration, and braking control tests.
That in mind, former NHTSA general counsel Paul Hemmersbaug will lead the charge for new guidelines. Hemmersbaug resigend from the agency last year with the intent to become chief counsel and policy director for transportation as a service with GM.
He comments, “We are asking NHTSA to give us permission to meet the safety standards through a different approach because we can’t achieve them now without a human driver or steering wheel. When you don’t have a steering wheel it makes no sense to talk about an air bag in the steering wheel.”
At the end of the day, GM’s new experiment still signifies quite a significant step forward in the emerging autonomous vehicle industry.