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GM Renews Bid to Deploy Shuttles that Lack Steering, Pedal Controls

Cruise Automation unit eager to start tests in 2022.

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General Motors and its Cruise Automation unit are again hoping to win U.S. approval to test autonomous vehicles built with no steering wheels or pedal controls.

GM made its first such request to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration nearly three years ago.

The Cruise Origin robo-shuttle  (Image: Cruise)

Eager to Test

The company originally had in mind a variant of its Chevrolet Bolt electric hatchback that had been stripped of controls for human drivers. Now it says it will withdraw that petition and replace it with one for the Cruise Origin driverless shuttle that Cruise unveiled in January.

The interior of the boxy, four-passenger Origin contains two rows of seats that face each other. The electric robo-shuttle has no steering wheel or any other operating controls accessible by a human driver.

GM wants to begin building a small number of Origin test vehicles as soon as the end of next year at its Detroit-Hamtramck EV factory, now called Factory Zero. Cruise won California’s approval last week to evaluate driverless—and initially passengerless—vehicles on the streets of San Francisco.

Federal regulations allow a company to be exempted for two years from safety standards for test fleets of as many as 2,500 vehicles. But the waiver, which was written well before the emergence of autonomous driving technologies, assumed even non-compliant test cars would have an operator on board.

Next Steps

NHTSA has been reluctant to allow such waivers for fully autonomous vehicles. It also continues to ponder steps that would remove “unnecessary regulatory barriers” to the development of totally automated vehicles.

As indicated by Cruise’s new petition, which is likely to be filed in the next month or two, the pressure is on U.S. regulators to address roadblocks to further development of driverless vehicles.

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