Electric self-driving cars will save millions of lives and significantly accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy, but only when they’re deployed in large numbers. So, naturally, our singular focus at Cruise is to rapidly deploy self-driving cars at scale. Then we’ll drive down their cost and improve their capabilities, so we can deploy at an even larger scale.
While the videos we’ve previously released show the most advanced self-driving software ever demonstrated, the most critical requirement for deployment at scale is actually the ability to manufacture the cars that run that software. So, today, we’re unveiling the world’s first mass-producible car designed to operate without a driver. This isn’t just a concept design — it has airbags, crumple zones, and comfortable seats. It’s assembled in a high-volume assembly plant capable of producing 100,000’s of vehicles per year, and we’d like to keep that plant busy.
The car we’re unveiling today is actually our 3rd generation self-driving car, but it’s the first that meets the redundancy and safety requirements we believe are necessary to operate without a driver. There’s no other car like this in existence. In a few weeks, these cars will be a part of the fleet that carries Cruise employees anywhere in San Francisco using our app. For now, there will still be a human behind the wheel.
In the near future you’ll see these cars on the road, and they’ll look like regular cars, but they’re actually some of the most technically advanced robots on the planet. They don’t need drivers, and there might not be anyone inside at all. They’ve been designed to emulate human driving behavior but with the human mistakes omitted. They don’t drink and drive, they don’t text while driving, and they don’t get tired. It has taken the collective effort of over two thousand people to create this product, and we believe that together we’ve managed to create something that will one day drive significantly better than any individual.
These robots didn’t appear overnight. We knew we’d discover new things along the way, so we took an iterative approach to development and built several generations of vehicles. In fact, by the time General Motors completed its acquisition of Cruise in mid 2016, we had already retrofitted our self-driving systems onto the Chevrolet Bolt EV platform to create our 1st generation test vehicles. We’ve already put hundreds of thousands of complex urban miles on these vehicles, and exposure to the many challenging situations we’ve encountered along the way has rapidly improved our software.
Hardware, however, is a different beast. No production car has been designed to operate without any help from a human. It’s a big jump to go from some assistance to none at all, perhaps even 100x as difficult. The number of critical systems that must be heavily modified, duplicated for redundancy, or newly designed means retrofitting an existing vehicle is out of the question. So behind the scenes and in parallel, a small army of our colleagues at GM, led by Doug Parks, began working with Cruise to develop a new car.
That new car was our 2nd generation test vehicle. It was designed by the same engineers who design regular cars, so it went through the same rigorous testing processes as most production vehicles. Most importantly, it was designed to be built on one of GM’s high volume assembly lines so that we could learn how to build at scale. We started rebuilding our systems using automotive grade components and automotive suppliers when possible, and started modifying and replacing code on the dozens of systems and controllers inside the vehicle so that they cleanly interfaced to the self-driving technology from Cruise. We even built some sensors and controllers from scratch because nobody else was building them. These 2nd generation cars have all the key elements for autonomous driving, but they don’t contain the redundancy and safety systems we believe are necessary for full driverless operation.