General Motor’s recent announcement of its acquisition of San Francisco-based autonomous driving startup Cruise Automation has caught the attention of many analysts and competitors in the self-driving car development game.
Cruise Automation was founded three years back with the intention of founding a research and development team and facility aimed at creating new technology to enable autonomous driving in cars.
The young company owes its existence to the startup incubator Y Combinator and originally set out to develop a retrofit kit that would enable cars that have already hit the market to drive on highways with a decently advanced level of autonomy. It would be similar to Tesla’s Autopilot feature, but it would be a $10,000 add-on. The prototype, called the RP-1, would also involve buyers’ willingness to bolt a large sensor-filled bar to the roof of their car.
The product is likely to be a rough sell considering that it would only be compatible with a few Audi models and would only work on particular California highways:
“A little over a year ago, we decided to pivot away from that when we discovered that fully driverless technology is a far larger business opportunity, and have been working on that quietly ever since,” stated Cruise co-founded and CEO Kyle Vogt stated.
Unfortunately Cruise made the news when one of its development prototypes, which was a specially outfitted Nissan Leaf, was involved in a minor crash in San Francisco during the transition from autonomous to manual control.
This isn’t the first time that GM has invested in a partnership with a startup; its $500 million investment in Lyft and recent launch of Maven can attest to this recent development. The more conventional car company has finally demonstrated a willingness to meet transportation change head-on, and has been making some interesting business gambles ever since. Its interest in ride-hailing and car-sharing services have both sought to put fewer cars on the road, for instance, which seems as if it would lower GM’s car sales. However, GM figures that “if legacy automakers are going to be disrupted, they want to be the ones doing the disrupting,” enabling them to take a less reactionist and more flexible response to change. Given that the disruptors like Uber, Google and Tesla seem to be making ground ahead of GM, the old car manufacturer better move fast if it wants to stay relevant in a quickly changing industry.
“We’ve been really clear that we see the first large-scale development of autonomous vehicles being into a ride-share type of car, so we think that’s the right first application,” stated GM President Dan Ammann. He seems to imply that GM positioned the Lyft investment as a way to put more self-driving cabs on the road more quickly, a purpose with which the Cruise deal seems to align.
Consumer sales of autonomous cars to projected to ensure “sometime after that,” according to Ammann.
GM will debut its newest car feature, “Super Cruise,” on Cadillac models at some point in 2017, now a bit late of its announcement to put the feature on the road starting this year.
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