GM cruises toward autonomous production

GM Cruise

GM and its automation-focused subsidiary Cruise recently gave reporters the opportunity to go for a real-world test drive in the second generation self-driving Chevy Bolt that the companies have been developing. While the rides weren’t completely smooth, the technology seemed to work safely in the busy streets of San Francisco, which can be an intimidating drive for both human and robot.

In this first-hand account from Troy Wolverton at Business Insider, an autonomous Cruise Bolt was summoned via a smartphone app, similar to Uber or Lyft, and Wolverton rode up and down winding, steep San Franciscan streets, encountering double-parked trucks, pedestrians, and other hazardous obstacles. His thoughts?

Wolverton found flaws with the technology, such as jerky stops or unnecessary hesitation. The cars feature a screen on the back of the driver and passenger seats that show which objects and obstacles the car’s sensors detect, and Wolverton was unnerved by the fact that he could see obstacles on the road not shown on the screen. However, Kyle Vogt, Cruise’s CEO, said that the screens intentionally leave out information that the car picks up to the viewer from getting overwhelmed.

Overall, Wolverton found the ride to be more impressive than a staged demonstration from Waymo, even if it did not go quite as smoothly. The real world, difficult and unpredictable test environment signals more meaningful progress than a controlled track, and GM and Cruise have been focusing the tests of self-driving Bolts on busy, city environments such as San Francisco and New York City, where the ride-hailing markets are largest. This makes every mile more meaningful than those of competitors who test in suburban, rural or controlled environments.

The success of the test ride is great news because GM and Cruise claim that these cars will be released in a matter of quarters, not years. With prototyping of a third generation self-driving Bolt underway in Orion, Michigan, it looks like GM is a clear leader in the race for bringing a self-driving vehicle to market. Best of all, it will be built by Michigan.