GM debuts self-driving vehicle with no steering wheel


GM executives said the automaker has asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to allow 16 alterations to existing vehicle safety rules - such as having an airbag in what would normally be the driver's seat, but without a steering wheel - to enable the deployment of the Cruise AV.

Companies like Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen and Volvo have also announced plans to offer electrified versions of all of its cars by 2022.

Ford Motor Co (F.N) said on Tuesday it will partner with delivery service Postmates Inc as the automaker starts testing ways to transport people, food and packages this spring in its self-driving cars, which are being developed by Ford's Argo unit.

"What's really special about this is if you look back 20 years from now, it's the first vehicle without a steering wheel and pedals, " said Kyle Vogt, chief executive officer of Cruise Automation, the San Francisco-based unit developing the software for GM's self-driving cars.

The company says it has filed a petition with the US federal government seeking permission to put the vehicles on the road sometime next year with no human backup drivers. But before it can use the new vehicles, GM will need special approval from the federal government.

This will be one of the first self-driving vehicles in commercial passenger service and among the first to do away with manual controls for steering, brakes and throttle.

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"When you don't have a steering wheel, it makes no sense to talk about an airbag in a steering wheel", Paul Hemmersbaugh, GM's policy director for autonomous vehicles, told reporters. Since the robot auto would not have a steering wheel, it would instead have an air bag in the left front seat - now a passenger seat - that mirrors the one in the right front seat.

GM is requesting that 2,500 vehicles receive exemptions.

Only seven states now allow cars without drivers (though in practice there are virtually none, because the technology is still being perfected).

To get its cars on the public road there are many hurdles for GM to clear. Arizona is one possible destination, as Cruise is already testing some of its other vehicles there, and the state's regulations are friendly to autonomous vehicles.

GM, Zoox, Waymo and others have all tested Level 4 cars, but usually with a driver still at the wheel to take over in case the system doesn't work properly.

About 50 test vehicles from that generation have been undergoing tests in a geographically restricted area of downtown San Francisco.