By on January 22, 2020

Cruise

Did General Motors’ self-driving arm reveal the future on Tuesday night? The automaker and its Cruise LLC subsidiary sure hope so, as both see big, big dollars coming from future autonomous ridesharing fleets.

The Cruise Origin unveiled in San Francisco last night is supposedly the vehicle (don’t call it a car) that will make that revenue stream possible. It certainly doesn’t look like a car, and the difference grows even greater when those side doors part.

Created with help from Honda, which dumped $2.75 million into Cruise back in 2018, securing it a 5.7-percent stake in the company, the Origin is bound for production. It’s also bound, initially, for California roads… once Cruise secures the necessary permits. Unlike other autonomous fleets, which carry a safety driver overseeing the operation of the converted passenger car (like Waymo’s Chrysler Pacifica fleet in Phoenix, or Uber Technology’s Volvo XC90s), there’s nothing for a driver to do in the Origin.

There’s no driver’s seat. No steering wheel, either, and no pedals. As the first ground-up, purpose-built driverless vehicle to come from Cruise, the flat floor and open cabin (to say nothing of the pop-out sliding doors) has more in common with a commuter train carriage than a car. Passengers in the Origin sit facing each other, doors to their side.

Obviously, the powertrain is electric. Origin finds its underpinnings in a new GM-derived platform created specifically for the task of shuttling paying passengers around town in relative silence.

Dan Ammann, CEO of GM’s Cruise division (and formerly president of GM itself), talked up the awfulness of human-driven passenger vehicles in a blog post.

“Fifty years, and all we’ve gotten is one incremental change after another,” he wrote. “We’re still cramped in a tiny space. We’re still burning fossil fuels, polluting our cities and destroying our planet. We’re still spending hours out of our day stuck in traffic, inventing new swear words. We’re still dying at a rate of more than 3,000 people per day.”

Calling the Origin “our answer to the question about what transportation system you’d build, if you could start from scratch,” Ammann boasted of the vehicle’s advanced sensor suite, which purportedly gives the Origin the ability to better feel out (and respond to) other drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists, as well as the ability to peer through darkness and poor weather. HD maps crafted via LiDAR sensors help guide the vehicle through a city, while other sensors monitor the road ahead and the vehicle’s periphery.

Currently, Cruise operates a self-driving ridesharing fleet for its San Francisco employees, employing a number of converted Chevrolet Bolts for the task. Those vehicles are responsible for collecting useful data for the Origin project. While Ammann wouldn’t say when he expects production to begin, or when the necessary approvals for full driverless ridesharing operations might land in its lap, he did wrap the Origin in a cloak of safety.

“Every mile in San Francisco is packed full of rich information. Which means the Origin is learning about how people drive, how to maneuver in unusual circumstances, and how to react to situations that seem impossible to predict,” he said. “We’re preparing it to anticipate things that shouldn’t happen, but do.”

The American public remains fairly hesitant to enter a vehicle driven entirely by itself; past incidents involving AVs operated by tech rivals haven’t helped their reputation. Ammann doesn’t want Origin passengers to feel like guinea pigs.

“We’re on track to crack the superhuman threshold in urban environments, and expect to be well past that threshold by the time the Cruise Origin enters production,” he said, referring to a vehicle’s ability to process information and respond quicker and more efficiently than a homo sapien. “We’re looking at safer roads on day one.”

Cruise anticipates the lifespan of an Origin vehicle to be 1 million miles, raising the fleet’s projected profits and lowering the cost of a ride.

[Images: Cruise]

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44 Comments on “One-box Bliss? Cruise Origin Is GM’s First Ground-up Driverless Vehicle...”


  • avatar
    eggsalad

    I have no issue with the technology. It’s not there yet, but I’m certain it will be someday soon.

    My issue is with the corporations. When this comes to fruition, I’ll expect the information about my whereabouts will be sold. I’ll expect a message from my health insurance company that says, “Cruise tells us you were at the bar for 3 hours on Saturday night. That’s unhealthy and we’re raising your rates.”

    Nope.

    • 0 avatar
      Imagefont

      Your smart phone is your personal tracking device unfortunately, and you’re paying for the privilege.

    • 0 avatar
      FerrariLaFerrariFace

      While I’m not naive enough to think that information wouldn’t be used in such a manner, it wouldn’t be particularly reliable. It would only tell you where Cruise picked you up and dropped you off. It could have dropped you off at the barber shop where you then walked to the bar and spent 3 hours, or vice versa. Besides, as Imagefont said, your phone’s GPS and all the companies tracking that device already provides much better data in that respect.

  • avatar
    N8iveVA

    No thank you. Every blue moon my infotainment system locks up and reboots itself, or my adaptive radar cruise control starts heavy braking on a curve with no one in front of me because it thinks the guy slowing in the left lane to exit is an issue. All these happen while my hands are on the steering wheel and I can hit the gas or brake to override. Hard pass from me on total automation. From what I’ve read we’re 20 years away from these systems being reliable. And then there’s liability issues when something does happen. I still think it’s the insurance industry that will end these programs.

  • avatar
    Imagefont

    But, but, but, but, but, one million Robotaxis any day now!

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Cue the Johnny Cab jokes…

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Dan Ammann should resign, and take over as CEO of Hyperbole.

  • avatar
    TMA1

    Given the weakness of Cruise’s photoshop game, I’ve got no faith in their ability to build a vehicle that will do what they’re hoping for.

    “Every mile in San Francisco is packed full of rich information.” Is that what we’re calling it now? If it’s so rich, maybe they should use it to fertilize the community gardens instead of leaving it on the sidewalk. Me, I just flush my information.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Dan Ammann is aware that he works for GM?

  • avatar
    Rnaboz

    I think they got the name “Origin” wrong. It should be:
    Coronavirus Cocoon

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    This is the same company that has no less than 8 vehicles with numerous reliability issues ranging from poor shifting clunky 8 speed automatics, defective 9 speed transmissions, power issues and melting pistons on the 1.5T engines, trucks that vibrate their passengers teeth out, poor infotainments systems that lock up and perform poorly and a plethora of other complaints involving their faulty side zone blind alert/rear traffic cross alert and lane keep systems that have failed on many customer vehicles. The quality control and design varies drastically at GM from one vehicle to the next. My Impala and others with this vehicle say they are good reliable cars. Owners of Malibu’s however seem to have plenty of problems despite this being on a similar platform.

    What could possibly go wrong on a GM designed and built vehicle that drives itself? Stay tuned for the recalls, deaths and fireworks.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Maybe, but what they don’t seem to have are issues with there autonomous vehicles driving into large objects.

    • 0 avatar
      TMA1

      There was a saying that I heard in the military that always stuck with me:

      “Your weapon was made by the lowest bidder.”

      Much like the M16A2 (firing-unlocking-extracting-ejecting-cocking-feeding-chambering-locking), my life could depend on one of these significantly more complex machines one day. And the Marines at least had an incentive to keep me alive.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      @ponchoman: Geeze! I must have been exceedingly lucky with my purchase! I have a truck with a smooth 8-speed transmission, no power issues, no melting pistons, no vibration, decent infotainment (problems start with smartphone connection like Android Auto and Apple Car Play) and honestly no other complaints outside of the fact that it’s simply too big for what I wanted but is the smallest available for what I needed.

  • avatar
    kcflyer

    Did the CEO have to go full sanctimonious like that? Did he not make millions running a company that embraces fossil fuels? Did not the profits from those fossil fuel vehicles fund his current company? Will not most of the electricity to power his new whip come from fossil fuels? And won’t his operation be heavily subsidized by involuntary contributions from taxpayers who may not agree with his stance or wish to ever use his products? To be clear. I hope his product succeeds but only on merit if it in fact offers a better way to move people around.

    • 0 avatar
      karonetwentyc

      “Did the CEO have to go full sanctimonious like that?”

      Being the only tone of voice that the vast majority of Bay Area types understand or can communicate in (particularly when addressing the rest of us in the Great Unwashed who aren’t exactly keen on embracing their vision of how the world needs to be run), it was absolutely necessary.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Why would Honda want to invest in Cruise?

      Automakers around the world are scrambling to develop self-driving technology to fend off challenges from upstart high-technology rivals. Already, a tech company appears to have seized the lead in the race to deploy autonomous vehicles: Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL)subsidiary Waymo is in the process of deploying its own self-driving taxi service right now.

      Honda’s own self-driving development program isn’t close to anything like that…” motleyfool

  • avatar
    karonetwentyc

    GM has invented the bus that puts bus drivers into the unemployment line. Well done, GM!

    Seriously… Driverless aspect apart, how is this any different from a bus? You’re still packed in with a bunch of strangers and stuck to a predetermined route.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Was just about the post the same thing – its a BUS. And appears to be a small inefficient one at that. What do people hate most about buses and trains? Sitting next to other people. What do they hate next? Waiting for said transportation system to arrive and then depart. So GM is building a system which literally has the two worse aspects of transportation. Congrats. This will die immediately. That Segway chair makes more sense.

      • 0 avatar
        TMA1

        Oh, but you forgot something worse than sitting next to strangers – facing them! As it is, I go out of my way to avoid sitting in the rear-facing seats on the subway. But when I do, at least I don’t have someone sitting directly across from me.

    • 0 avatar
      FerrariLaFerrariFace

      Don’t call it a car… but maybe call it a bus?

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      What’s wrong with buses? Millions of people use public transportation everyday, and I’d bet millions more would if they had the opportunity. “Ew I have to be next to a stranger” Welcome to planet Earth, I will be your guide lol.

      You guys are looking at all the downsides while ignoring the upsides… The most obvious one being cost. Sharing the cost, maintenance and insurance of a vehicle across thousands of people, and fuel costs across multiple passengers = big savings over owning a personal car. And with no drivers there won’t be a need for fixed routes or schedules, so in theory there would be very little to no waiting (if you schedule rides in advance)

      Of course if you want to keep a personal car you will be able to. I’d like to keep one or two in the household but I wouldn’t commute in one. You guys sound scared

      • 0 avatar
        TMA1

        Man, sporty, you really gotta take a ride on the DC Metro buses. If the constant lurching and swaying don’t make you sick, your fellow riders will. Some of the behavior is out of control.

        • 0 avatar
          sportyaccordy

          I grew up in NYC so I know public transit. Commuting with coworkers on a traffic free highway would be nothing like sitting on a bus with strangers in a city. Seems like people have no capacity to imagine public transportation outside of their worst experiences

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          OMG A BUS

          Whenever it’s raining too hard for riding my bike to be pleasant, I commute in a bus.

          It’s a pretty crowded bus line and often I have to sit next to someone.

          I don’t perish. I’m not even mildly inconvenienced. It’s just fine.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            “You guys sound scared”
            “I don’t perish. I’m not even mildly inconvenienced. It’s just fine.”

            Getting some agoraphobia shaming up in here.

      • 0 avatar
        SPPPP

        Common routes are pretty much covered by normal buses, and they aren’t always well utilized. You could say it’s an improvement to eliminate the driver, but there are risks there too. And the given assumption that some jobs will be eliminated if things develop that way. (Isn’t that the real goal?)

        If you assume that more diverse routes will be incorporated, I still think it’s a mixed bag.

        If people don’t use it, it will look like the proverbial “empty bus”, only it really will be empty. That won’t defray costs very well.

        If a lot of people use it, then that’s great, but it will become somewhat unpredictable.

        If there are no fixed routes or schedules, then scheduling may become an issue. Even assuming efficient routing, what if you get picked up and then the “auto-autobus” makes 10 more stops (5 pickups, 5 drop-offs, or any combination thereof) on the way to your destination? Each stop takes at least a couple of minutes, and maybe you missed some lights because of it. You thought it would be a 30-minute trip, and now it’s over 60 minutes, because of stops you didn’t know about.

        It seems likely that, in order to make it possible to plan how long trips will take, certain of these auto-autobuses would be assigned specific routes or tasks (local and express). I think it would end up looking like a hybrid of the current bus system and an Uber, only there wouldn’t be a driver.

        I would also guess that some transit company is probably doing a “lite” version of this already with on-demand stops for human-driven buses.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    This might be a good idea.

    But I would propose a system of mechanical cables (perhaps as long as 21,000 feet) under the street which could transmit power from a centralized powerhouse (DC motors?) to carry individual (maybe 60-passenger?) cars along heavily-traveled routes. My preliminary calculations indicate that over 7 million people could use such a system on an annual basis.

    Still working on how such a system might turn corners (scratching head). And I suppose the lines would *never* be able to cross at right angles…

  • avatar
    Thomas Kreutzer

    This is great! An even smaller bus so I can sit closer to people I don’t want to be around.

    • 0 avatar
      kcflyer

      Thomas, you lived in Western NY before, so you know the NY politicians will eat this up with a large taxpayer funded spoon. So instead of a huge city bus with a “powered by clean natural gas” banner they can spend four times more on this boondoggle. I can picture the press conference now. Gov Andy grinning from ear to ear. The end result will be the same. I spend money on my car. Drive to work. Watch nearly empty busses go buy knowing I “shared the cost” with those folks to. How nice of me.

      • 0 avatar
        Thomas Kreutzer

        But you can be anywhere in Buffalo in 20 minutes!

        Jokes aside, I have an evolving relationship with public transit. I gave up riding public transportation after got my license. I enjoyed the trains in Japan, but didn’t have to depend on them everyday as I usually lived close enough to my job to walk or rode my motorcycle. I almost never used buses.

        Today I commute about 30 minutes each way by train and while I hated it at first, I have become accustomed to it. I’m not going to say I “enjoy” it, but I do enjoy avoiding the hassle and the cost of the drive to and from work, freedom from the toll roads that have guaranteed rich people’s freedom of movement while reducing everyone else’s, and the exorbitant cost of leaving my vehicle in a garage all day.

        I could see using something like the product presented, assuming it was safe and reliable, as long as it was convenient, clean and safe. The problem is I don’t think it will be any of these things. I can see being forced to ride all over hell and gone to get a full load of passengers before actually heading to where you want to go. I can see people leaving trash or whatever in these because no one is there to manage it and I can see these being used as a convenient and private place in which to rob and assault people. With that in mind, I think I’ll continue to ride the train.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    First off, I don’t agree with the concept of ‘ride sharing’ as we know it today. Oh, carpooling with people you know are going to the same or nearby locations is good but the idea of private individuals acting as personal taxi services dispatched by a mobile app can only lead to the issues we have already seen. Licensed taxi services are rarely more expensive and considerably safer as the drivers are required to have a CDL/Chauffeur’s license.

    That said, the Cruise is likely to be a failure in all but metropolitan city centers. Anybody outside of those densely urban areas is still going to want and need personal vehicles–especially if they need to carry bulk goods like monthly shopping or carrying gifts to a party. And considering how late some parties run, a number of such units would need to be almost immediately accessible if they want to return home in a timely manner. A nice idea, but it is not, yet, the future of transportation. All this will do is put the taxi services out of business in the one place taxis tend to see their greatest business.

    A better use of this system would be to upgrade commuter rail systems to better handle bringing commuters into those urban centers and then use these in place of conventional busses to drop passengers at their workplace, eliminating the big busses themselves (and reducing some of the traffic congestion) and supplement the taxi services–ultimately converting them all over to a Cruise-like platform. Of course, you’re now taking hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs away from the people who drive those busses and taxis today.

    Note also that for complete automation, the user will need a convenient and effective way to program in their destination that doesn’t require speech or typing–as some passengers can’t speak or hear and typing on a 12-digit keypad is painfully slow, especially if it’s a long or confusing address. Rather, the passenger should have a key-card that can simply be shoved into a reader that is hard-coded to the location desired. Of course, this now means the user will need the technical skill and memory to program their travel ahead into that card.

    Do you even begin to see the difficulties involved? Oh, it CAN work, but what we’re seeing is barely a baby step on the way to what GM is touting.

    • 0 avatar
      TMA1

      “Licensed taxi services are rarely more expensive”

      Where on earth do you live where this is true?

      “the drivers are required to have a CDL/Chauffeur’s license”

      But they’re not required to speak or understand English. The last taxi drive I had out of DCA didn’t even know what state he was supposed to be going to. Now that the airport has added a dedicated line for ride-hailing pickups, I haven’t looked back. And the ride home has always been $30 cheaper than a taxi ever was ($50 less from Dulles to home).

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        @TMA1: Maybe I should have added, “YMMV” Where I live, taxi and UBER (for example) are essentially the same price for the same distance. And I’m less than 100 miles north of you on I-95. Well, almost exactly 100 miles north of you, if I go by mile markers.

  • avatar
    Jagboi

    Does anyone else see the irony of them lamenting “hours stuck in traffic” and then they are putting another vehicle on the roads?

  • avatar
    conundrum

    I give up. The “Read all comments” only works sometimes today and part of yesterday. Useless.

  • avatar
    Steve65

    This seems like precisely the sort of application where BEVs and a plausibly achievable standard of self-driving automation can work. Entirely within a tightly-mappable environment where virtually all possible destinations will have a readily available defined address, Fleet service where a home base can be set up to assure reliable access to charging, with single-point management of scheduling to prevent demand surges and slack periods, so the location can be optimized for steady flow instead of needing to be sized to meet a large demand peak.

    • 0 avatar
      SPPPP

      Well, the fleet would still need to be sized for peak demand. Are you saying coordinate the trips to home base to smooth out charging demand? That would work well, though it would probably still be preferable to charge at night because of utility rates. (Sounds like a job for Dirk Niblick!)

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