The future of driving doesn't involve driving -- at all.
That's the big takeaway from first peak inside General Motors new autonomous car, which lacks the steering wheel, pedals, manual controls and human drivers that have come to define the experience of riding inside an automobile for more than a century.
The means the Cruise AV -- a fourth generation autonomous vehicle based on the Chevy Bolt EV -- is in total control.
GM submitted a safety petition with the Department of Transportation Thursday and plans to mass produce the vehicle as early as next year, the automotive giant announced Friday. The manufacturer is touting the vehicle as the world's "first production-ready vehicle" built with the sole purpose of operating "safely on its own with no driver," a degree of independence known as "level 4 autonomy."
GM is far from the only company testing level 4 vehicles. Zoox and Waymo have also tested Level 4 cars, but with a backup driver at the helm in case of an emergency.
"What's really special about this is if you look back 20 years from now, it's the first car without a steering wheel and pedals," said Kyle Vogt, chief executive officer of Cruise Automation, the San Francisco-based group that has partnered with GM to develop self-driving cars told Bloomberg.
The self-driving Chevrolet Bolt -- already being tested on busy streets in San Francisco and Phoenix with a human engineer in the vehicle -- relies on cameras, radar, and high-precision laser sensors known as lidar for navigation.
Beginning in 2019, the vehicles will be used in a ride-sharing program in multiple American cities, where "the vehicles will travel on a fixed route controlled by their mapping system," Bloomberg reported.
To improve safety, the vehicles will share information with one another and rely on two computer systems, which operate simultaneously so that if one computer encounters a problem, the second computer can serve as a backup, according to GM's self-driving safety report.
The report says the Cruise AV was designed to operate in chaotic, fluid conditions, such as aggressive drivers, jaywalkers, bicyclists, delivery trucks and construction.
"With its advanced sensor systems, the Cruise AV has the capability to see the environment around it, in 360 degrees, day and night," the safety report adds. "It is designed to identify pedestrians in a crosswalk, or an object darting suddenly into its path, and to respond accordingly. It can maneuver through construction cones, yield to emergency vehicles and react to avoid collisions."
As The Washington Post reported last month, the ambitious timeline GM has set for getting the Cruise AV on the road could place the automaker in an enviable position -- the unique ability to provide existing ride-hailing companies such as Lyft or Uber with a growing fleet of autonomous vehicles or, better yet, to unleash GM's own service.
The company has access to vast dealership networks, nationwide influence and manufacturing prowess, potentially offering a GM-driven ride-hailing service the opportunity to supplant the Silicon Valley start-ups that have been seeking for years to disrupt the auto industry.