Hey, its Andy with The Verge, and we just got our first exclusive look at the new autonomous vehicle from Cruise, they call it the Origin. It really didn’t look like any car I’ve ever seen before and that’s really kind of the first impression you get as soon as you approach this vehicle. The outside of it has the same dimensions as a normal crossover SUV, but that’s really kind of where the similarities end.
So when you wanna get into the vehicle, you first have to put in a code on its keypad, that’s on the door on the outside, and it sort of opens as if, like, its a minivan that opens from both sides. You get in and you have a very spacious interior of the vehicle, and that’s obvious because there’s no steering wheel, there are no pedals, there’s no gear shaft, there’s not even really a dashboard or any infotainment system. There’s just two bench seats facing each other and this sort of vast space in between them.-
It’s designed to be comfortable if its shared, but if it’s just you you got so much space in here, you can really like, stretch out, and it’s pretty great. And so I think it’s a good experience, whether it’s just you or a lot of other people.- You can do yoga in here probably.- Absolutely you can do yoga. Well, as long as your seatbelts on, I don’t know how that works.- Now you may have heard of some other self-driving operators like Waymo, which used to be part of Google, and Argo which is backed by Ford and Volkswagen.
Cruise is tied very closely to GM, General Motors, which is the largest auto manufacturer in the US. Cruise has 160 self-driving test vehicles that are Chevy Volts, electric vehicles, here in San Francisco, where they hope to eventually launch a fully driverless robot taxi service. But more importantly, they’ve raised about seven billion dollars in venture capital cash over the last couple of years, which is really just like, a staggering amount of money for a self-driving car company.
Especially when you consider that they haven’t even scaled a commercial product yet. Now about two point seven billion of that is coming from the other big auto manufacturer in Cruises corner, and that’s Honda. This doesn’t look like any other car in the road today, and that’s because Cruise says it wants to move beyond the car, arguing that many of the problems that we have today could be traced to single-occupancy vehicles.
Well, there are some things about removing the driver, and the steering wheel, and the pedal, that eliminates some complexity and cost in the vehicle. But as you can see here, the way vehicles are designed, normally they have a hood in the front where the engine is, and some storage in the trunk. But when you don’t need all that stuff, and you don’t need things placed where they are, we can have this enormous, spacious cabin without taking up any more space on the road than a regular car would, which is kind of insane.
It leads to a far greater experience for the rider, but then because we built this car around the idea of not having a driver, and specifically being used in a rideshare fleet, that kind of business, you know the vehicle is engineered to last a million miles, and all the interior components are replaceable. The compute is replaceable, the sensors are replaceable, and what that does is it drives the cost per mile downward low than you could ever reach.
Now Cruise insists that this is not just a fancy concept, which is a really important distinction to make. Now we’ve seen dozens of radical car concepts over the years that have re-imagined interiors that look like fancy living rooms or bedrooms. But none of those really have any chance of hitting the road anytime soon, if ever. Cruise says that this car is going into production. But its gonna be tough getting there. Cruise needs a special exemption from the federal government in order to mass-produce vehicles without traditional human controls like steering wheels and pedals.
And the federal government only grants about2,500 exemptions a year. Now GM put in its request for an exemption back in 2018, but it hasn’t gotten it yet, and it’s unclear when exactly this car is going to be approved to hit the road. Now Cruise has hit some bumps in the road before. It’s a plan to launch a robot taxi service in San Francisco before the end of 2019 didn’t really happen. It said the technology wasn’t really ready yet. And Cruise has said it wanted to test its vehicles in New York City, but that never really went anywhere.
Now I think its safe to say that Cruise is feeling the heat from its competitors like Uber and Tesla, Waymo, and Ford. Now the Google self-driving car project recently started giving people rides in its self driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans, with no safety driver in the front seat, which is a pretty enormous leap. But the van still has steering wheels and pedals. But removing the safety driver is a pretty dramatic way of saying that this technology is here, it’s ready, and it works.
Cruise missed its chance to be the first to launch a taxi service and it missed its chance to be the first to take safety drivers out of the front of the vehicle. But with this car, it has the opportunity to be the first to do something maybe even more radical, that changes the conversation, move beyond the car, and come up with an entirely different way of getting around.