Just as 1908 marked the end of the horse and buggy era with the introduction of the Ford Model T, 2018 may well be remembered as the end of the automotive era, as General Motors begins mass-production of a driverless car without steering wheels or pedals.
General Motors announced its self-driving Cruise AV—a modified electric Chevrolet Bolt—on Friday, January 12, following a petition submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to deploy a car that doesn’t comply with current safety standards.
“The Cruise AV is designed to operate safely on its own, with no driver, steering wheel, pedals or other manual controls when it goes on the road in 2019,” General Motors said in a news bulletin on its website.
It will not be the first ever vehicle to ditch traditional controls, with Google notably unveiling its Firefly pod car in 2014, but when the Cruise AV rolls out next year it will be the first ever production-ready vehicle designed to operate completely by itself, without any need for a human driver.
As well as beating Google’s self-driving division Waymo to delivering a truly driverless production car, General Motors will also leap ahead of the original pioneer Ford, who plan to build a car without a steering wheel or pedals by 2021.
The arrival of fully autonomous cars could see a shift towards the end of privately owned vehicles, according to industry experts. Former General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said in a blogpost last year put the timescale for this transition to fully take place as between 15 to 20 years.
"I won't be around to say, 'I told you so,'," Lutz wrote. "Though if I do make it to 105, I could no longer drive anyway because driving will be banned."
GM's plan for the driverless Chevy bolts is to use them as autonomous taxis across the country. General Motors is rumored to be partnering with ride-hailing app Lyft to deploy thousands of self-driving electric cars onto U.S. roads, in what would be the largest test of fully autonomous vehicles by any automaker to date.
General Motors hopes its new driverless electric vehicle, and others following it, will be part of a safer, cleaner and more efficient future that will lead the transition to a time without traffic jams.
“Imagine a world with no car crashes,” General Motors wrote in a blurb to its 2018 Self-Driving Safety Report, delivered this week to the U.S. Department of Transportation. “And imagine a crowded city not filled with congested roads and parking lots and structures but with efficiently moving traffic and more space."
The automaker giant also believes it will open up mobility opportunities to people previously unable to drive.
“Imagine the peace of mind knowing that whatever our age, our stage of life or our physical capabilities we have the freedom to go wherever we want to go,” the blurb continues. “Our self-driving vehicles will improve access to mobility for those who currently cannot drive due to age, disability, or otherwise.”
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