GM Cruise Automation self-driving Bolt EV
While such autonomous players as Uber, Tesla, and Waymo have already opened their car doors to the public, GM's autonomous subsidiary Cruise Automation has held its cards close to its vest.
This past week, the Detroit-based automaker and Silicon Valley-based subsidiary allowed select members of the press a sneak peek of what’s to come from its self-driving fleet of Bolt EV electric cars.
According to one first-hand report, you definitely don’t want to hail a Bolt robo-taxi after a hard night out in San Francisco—at least not yet.
Cruise has been testing its fleet of Bolt EVs, equipped with Lidar laser sensors, in a number of dense urban centers, including its home base of San Francisco.
Until now, the company has only allowed employees and investors a chance to sample its wares, perhaps for good reason.
The Bolt EVs are extremely cautious, for safety reasons, to the point of being downright jerky, according to a recent report in Wired.
General Motors' Dan Ammann (center) with Lyft's John Zimmer (right) and Logan Green (left)
"My trip was far from smooth, the vehicle so careful that it jolted, disconcertingly, to a stop at even the whisper of a collision," Aarian Marshall wrote.
"If the Silicon Valley motto is 'move fast and break things,' Detroit’s seems to be 'move below the speed limit and ensure you don’t kill anyone.'"
Marshall's experience with Cruise Automation's fleet was riddled with small issues right from the start.
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The first car she hailed through the Cruise Anywhere app from a Cruise employee's iPhone said she would be scooped up by a Bolt wearing the nickname Pickle.
Instead, the car left Marshall in a pickle by canceling her ride. She was eventually picked up by another Bolt EV, this one named Chinchilla.
All of Cruise's test vehicles are manned by two employees—one in the driver's seat with their feet hovering over the pedals, ready to intervene at any moment, and another in the front passenger seat monitoring the ride.
Chevrolet Bolt EV self-driving prototype
During her ride in the self-driving Bolt, the experience "felt very safe," Marshall says, but the car—which is programmed to anticipate pedestrian actions—was supremely cautious.
"The car began to make a left turn into a crosswalk, and a woman pushing a stroller on the sidewalk accelerated toward the street," she writes. In response, the vehicle jerked to a stop in the middle of the intersection.
These very unhuman actions make the cars a prime target for being rear-ended. According to California Department of Motor Vehicles reports, Cruise vehicles have been involved in 21 accidents, 13 of them when they were rear-ended by human drivers.
Hopefully for General Motors' sake, it can rectify these issues quickly.
The automaker plans to roll out a commercial autonomous fleet beginning in 2019.
That fleet will be open to the public and service dense urban areas in multiple cities.