GM's Cruise Automation Claims Self-Driving Chevy Bolt Is Ready for Mass Production

Cruise claims its third-generation autonomous car can operate in the real world without a driver.

Cruise Automation

Many companies are developing self-driving cars, but most tend to focus on the software and sensors, rather than the cars themselves. General Motors's Cruise Automation subsidiary has been honing its autonomous-driving software for a while...but now, it's shifting attention to the cars that will use it. Cruise just unveiled its third-generation autonomous prototype, and it claims this version is ready for mass production. 

Like the previous two generations, the third-generation car is a Chevrolet Bolt fitted with autonomous driving equipment. The difference, as outlined by Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt in a Medium post, is that the new version has enough redundancies and safety features that Cruise feels it could operate in the real world without a driver, unrestricted.

Cruise began building its first Bolt autonomous prototypes shortly before GM bought it last year, and started testing them on public roads. Earlier this year, it unveiled a second-generation prototype, which is built on the same assembly line in Orion Township, Michigan, that makes the conventional Bolt. The second-generation cars featured greater integration between the autonomous-driving hardware and software and the Bolt's stock components, Vogt said.

The key difference between the second and third generations is the addition of "redundancy and safety systems we believe are necessary for full driverless operation," Vogt said. Since Cruise doesn't want to rely on a human driver as a backup, redundancies were built into the autonomous driving system itself. The car's electrical architecture is now significantly different from a stock Bolt's, more closely resembling "that of a commercial airplane or spacecraft," Vogt said.

But these self-driving cars can still be built on the same Michigan assembly line–meaning that, in theory, Cruise and GM could crank out thousands of them if they wanted to. That puts Cruise and GM ahead of most of their rivals. Automakers like Ford are planning to launch their own self-driving cars, but haven't completed production-ready designs yet. Tech companies like Waymo, Uber, and Lyft are developing the systems, but need to coordinate with automaker partners to get them in cars.

Cruise's achievement also presents an important issue. Now that the company has a mass-production-ready self-driving car, who will confirm that it is safe to put on the road in large numbers? The debate over self-driving car regulations is making progress, but Cruise just gave it a whole new level of urgency.