As explored in previous entries, the rollout of self-driving vehicles has been, and will continue to be, an incremental one.
The seemingly unstoppable introduction of these driverless drones will unfold slowly, one small step at a time. With over 260 million passenger vehicles on U.S. roadways, it is hard to execute a wholesale swap-out; there will certainly be a time of coexistence between fully automated and driver-operated cars.
In any event, there is big news from auto giant General Motors that its self-driving “Cruise AV” could be ready for commercial ride services as soon as next year — assuming federal and state approval.
A recent article in the New York Times says that GM has already submitted a petition to the Department of Transportation, “seeking permission to begin operating fully autonomous cars — without steering wheels or pedals — in a commercial ride-hailing service next year.”
It appears that GM will offer its own ride service, rivaling rideshare pioneers Uber and Lyft. The GM chief financial officer was quoted: “We intend to launch a commercial ride-share service at commercial scale in 2019. That will begin in one city and scale up in that city and move to other cities after that.”
The Cruise AV boasts an impressive array of features, including “radar, cameras and laser sensors that are clustered on its roof and allow the car to navigate city streets and recognize vehicles, pedestrians, intersections and other obstacles.” The lack of steering wheel creates more space for passengers, offering two passenger seats in front. The only thing occupants can control is audio and temperature, ceding matters of pilotage to the computer.
GM’s venture into the ridesharing arena poses an interesting question: Will availability of self-driving cars via rideshare services undercut the need to own a car?
If so, we may see car manufacturers shift resources from automobile production to rideshare operation — cutting out the “middleman,” and capitalizing on the fruits of their labors. Stay tuned as our blog chronicles these developments.
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