GM May Soon Have ‘Thousands’ Of Self-Driving Electric Bolts In A Lyft Test Fleet – Forbes
The pace of self-driving vehicle technology development keeps accelerating. Fast on the heels of Ford’s $1 billion investment in a startup tasked with perfecting artificial intelligence for its robotic autos, General Motors is said to be readying a massive fleet of automated electric cars for a test program with ride-hailing affiliate Lyft.
Starting in 2018 GM intends to deploy “thousands” of automated Bolt hatchbacks in what could be the largest such test fleet in operation, according to Reuters, citing two sources familiar with the matter who weren’t identified. If the plan materializes, GM’s fleet could surpass Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo, formerly the Google Self-Driving Car project, which is currently expanding from 60 autonomous vehicles to at least 160 this year. A Waymo spokesman declined to discuss plans to enlarge the fleet beyond that level.
Lyft would operate the all-electric cars, dubbed Bolt AVs, in multiple U.S. states, according to the report. GM declined to confirm the story.
“We do not provide specific details on potential future products or technology rollout plans,” spokesman Kevin Kelly told Forbes. “We have said that our AV technology will appear in an on-demand ride sharing network application sooner than you might think.”
The company in December said it would build prototype autonomous Bolts at a Michigan factory starting early this year. GM’s self-driving program is being led by its Cruise Automation unit, which already tests Bolts in San Francisco that are outfitted with radar and laser LIDAR sensors for 360-degree vision and an AI-enabled computing system. GM bought Cruise in 2016 for $581 million.
Although the automaker had been researching autonomous vehicles for years, it bought Cruise to get the technology to market much faster, Mike Ableson, GM’s vice president for global strategy, told Forbes.
“We’re a manufacturing company, so the hardware side of autonomous vehicles, we felt like we really understood,” he said in a Feb. 16 interview in Los Angeles. “But when we looked at the Silicon Valley development model, the speed at which those companies move and the talent they attract, we thought that would be a real asset to the company. That led to the Cruise acquisition.”
Ableson was in downtown Los Angeles for an event at Union Station marking the addition of battery-powered Chevrolet Bolts to GM’s Maven carshare fleet. GM is already making Bolts available for use by Lyft drivers in a move to boost awareness of the new hatchback that travels more than 230 miles per charge.
Ford Motor said on Feb. 10 it would invest $1 billion over the next five years in a Pittsburgh-based artificial intelligence company, Argo AI, to help get its fully autonomous vehicles on the road by 2021. The new unit is led by Bryan Salesky, previously with Google’s self-driving car team, and Peter Rander, who was previously at Carnegie Mellon University’s National Robotics Engineering Center and a member of Uber’s automated vehicle team in Pittsburgh.
While GM’s move looks bold, Elon Musk’s Tesla may overtake it.
The electric-car maker already offers semi-autonomous technology across its line of Model S sedans and Model X SUVs intended to handle basic driving functions and lane changes when traveling on highways.
Over the next several months, Musk has said Tesla will start rolling out enhanced software for its vehicles via wireless updates with a goal of eventually achieving full self-driving capability. In late 2016, the company began adding hardware, including cameras and advanced sonar and radar sensors, needed for Teslas to drive themselves, without specifying how soon the software to allow that would be ready.
A panel of automakers that included GM’s Ableson told a House subcommittee on Feb. 14 that the federal government needs to formulate guidelines for automated vehicles soon. Given how quickly the technology and product planning is moving, soon may be an understatement.