General Motors Autonomous Vehicle Request

General Motors has asked U.S. safety regulators to allow cars without steering wheels.

The automaker launched a landmark petition last week, taking the next step in its quest to develop a self-driving car.

GM is running 24-hour, seven-day-a-week autonomous vehicle trials in the city of San Francisco and recently began offering customers the option to drive without a driver.

Rides can be booked from 10:30 pm to 5:30 am if the stop and destination are within 11 km of the 11 km where the roads have been mapped for unmanned vehicles.

The company says hundreds of people have taken the rides and the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive.

While San Francisco is the most developed test site, GM also plans to eventually offer a limited number of driverless rides in Dubai and Tokyo.

Arizona is also testing contactless, driverless door-to-door delivery vehicles, although these vehicles still require driver supervision.

The technology is being developed jointly with tech startup Cruise, which is 80% owned by the automaker. Cruise is developing a six-seater rideshare called Origin that doesn’t have a steering wheel.

Prashanti Raman, Cruise’s vice president of global government relations, says filing with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ensures the technology’s adoption is not hampered by bureaucratic red tape.

“There are no laws and regulations yet, there is our program and technology,” she says.

Raman says regulations for autonomous vehicles are like a patchwork quilt, with different states and cities having different rules and laws. Uniform federal laws are also needed.

“It’s a process that’s started. We’re the first to do it, so it took a lot longer,” she says.

Raman says “the plan is to be comparable to ridesharing” in pricing, but if the fleet continues to grow it “will help keep costs down even more.”

The application will also ask for a rule change regarding windshield wipers, which are not needed, and heavy-duty window tinting, which is not currently allowed.

Although many car companies, most notably Tesla, have developed self-driving cars, none of them have come close to producing a final product. After the initial publicity, the industry seems to have gone silent on the technology.

GM vehicles are equipped with a sophisticated array of cameras, lidars and radar sensors on the roof and around the vehicle. Cameras can detect pedestrians and cyclists and read road signs, while lidar creates a three-dimensional image of the vehicle’s surroundings, and radar measures the speed and trajectory of moving objects.

The cars have what the industry classifies as Level 4 autonomous driving, which basically means they can operate without a driver in a controlled environment.

Most experts believe that true autonomous driving, called Level 5, will be more than a decade away.

Cars have had accidents during the Cruise program, though the brand says most of the accidents were caused by other drivers. No serious accidents were recorded.

GM says autonomous vehicles can reduce road tolls as well as reduce pollution and congestion.

The current autonomous fleet is based on the existing Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicle, but GM expects Origin to launch next year.

The Origin can accommodate six passengers seated three in a row facing each other.

Cars are still limited. Bad weather, such as fog or rain, can interfere with the vehicle’s sensors and cameras. In the event of bad weather, the vehicle will recognize this and perform a controlled stop.

The maximum speed of unmanned vehicles is about 40 km/h.

Raman warns that the adoption of self-driving technology will be a long and difficult process, as different countries have different traffic conditions, languages ​​and even driving styles.

She says that this is not a technology where a formulaic, universal approach will work.

“As much as we want it to be everywhere tomorrow, there is a lot of work to be done,” she says.

Originally published as General Motors asks the government to remove the steering wheel