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GM’s Cruise unveils new self-driving car without steering wheels and brake pedals

January 22, 2020, 3:49 AM UTC

From the outside, a new self-driving car from General Motors resembles a basic white minivan with an orange roof. But inside, it lacks some typically important features: a steering wheel and pedals for gas and brakes.

Cruise Origin, an all-electric autonomous car from GM’s Cruise subsidiary, was unveiled Tuesday night during a splashy media event in San Francisco. Unlike GM’s conventional automobiles, you can’t buy it. Instead, it will be used to ferry passengers of a planned ride-hailing service, akin to Uber and Lyft. The company did not say when or where that new ride-sharing service would debut.

The idea, however, is that drivers will be unnecessary. If so, steering wheels and foot pedals are of no use. It’s currently illegal for companies to test self-driving cars without any human safety drivers, but the company said it is talking with regulators to obtain waivers.

The new car, developed in partnership with Honda, comes amid a race for leadership in what is considered to be the next frontier in transportation. Alphabet’s Waymo, for instance, operates a nascent ride-sharing service using autonomous cars in Arizona that it says has 1,500 monthly active users. Meanwhile, last summer, Volkswagen said that it would invest $2.6 billion in the self-driving car startup Argo AI, majority owned by Ford. 

Numeric display for Cruise Origin.
Numeric display to open the doors of the Cruise Origin.

While on stage, Cruise CEO Dan Ammann revealed few details about Origin, like when it would debut on public streets or specifics about the proposed ride-sharing service. Instead, he pitched the new car as an example of a futuristic ride-sharing service that’s good for the environment and affordable.

“We need a huge number of people to use the Cruise Origin,” Ammann said, adding, “That won’t happen unless we deliver” on a goal of making the car inexpensive to produce and operate.

Ammann said that Cruise expects to produce the vehicles for “roughly half the cost of what a conventional electric SUV costs today,” without elaborating. He also bragged about the Origin’s “modularity,” which means that Cruise would be able to easily upgrade the car by swapping in new components. 

Each Cruise Origin “will have a lifespan of well over one million miles— that’s six times more than today’s average car,” Ammann said. Additionally, Cruise will operate its ride-hailing fleet of Origins “all day and night.”

People can get inside Origin through its two doors that slide open like you’d see at a supermarket. Instead of using door handles, customers presumably punch a code on a keypad to get inside.

The interior of the Cruise Origin

Inside, there’s seats for up to six people—three people sitting on one side and three on the other with empty space in between. The seats are uncomfortable, like the thin cushions that cover ironing boards, although that may change as more people sit on the seats and they soften over time.

While riding, passengers can see information about their ride, like how long it will take to reach the destination, on two computer displays that hang from the ceiling. 

One of the Cruise Origin’s display screens.

As a sign of its progress, Cruise said that it has been testing a rideshare service in San Francisco, using employees, and that those cars have traveled a million miles.

“No doubt what we laid out here is ambitious, but we are moving fast,” Ammann said.

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