Cruise Origin: 8 Things to Know About GM’s Driverless Pod Car

We’ve now seen the funky Cruise Origin self-driving vehicle, and GM has confirmed it will start building the boxy six-passenger ride-sharing van at its Detroit-Hamtramck plant in early 2022. In other words, this is real, and we could be hailing one in 2022. Before we open our wallets or trust our lives to this new form of transportation, here are a few things we learned about the Origin.

How do you even get in GM’s autonomous car?


The Origin has two big sliding doors that open from the center like a tram, creating an opening that’s three times the size of a conventional door, and the low load floor makes it easier to get in and out, even with luggage for that airport run. The doors are fully automated with sensors that tell them when to open and close. They can also be opened manually or through an app on your phone. Sensors in the side panels also know if there is ever any contact, for example a bump from a cyclist pedaling by.

Why do all these future pods look similarly wacky?

A box is the most efficient design when you want as much interior space as possible for passengers and cargo, but to maneuver in the city a vehicle’s overall size must be kept manageable. Although the Origin can handle highway speeds, it will spend most of its life in the city and on airport runs, so it doesn’t need sleek lines or Corvette-level handling. Designers also say they engineered the shape to be inviting and not intimidating.

Will I get motion sickness in an autonomous car?

This was a big topic among the Cruise Origin development team, which put a huge emphasis on a smooth drive, especially starting and stopping, because half the seats face the back of the vehicle. That’s a sensation not everyone can stomach. Designers and engineers were also cognizant of the fact that some passengers aren’t comfortable being unable to see where they’re going.

What screens and entertainment—or lack thereof—will it have?

You can be excused for thinking the driverless pods of the future are essentially living rooms on wheels with big screens to display movies or videos. But that’s not the case here. The Origin has modest screens at each end that greet passengers, tell them to buckle up, alert them the vehicle is about to leave, and let them know the next stop or person being picked up. But there are no infotainment screens. Research showed most people prefer to consume infotainment on their own devices.

What happens if emergency sirens are near?

As a self-driving vehicle, the Origin has no driver to hear sirens and pull over. It does have microphones, cameras, sensors, and other equipment, and engineers continue to work on ensuring the Origin can detect and react to emergency vehicles.

Will it work in the dark?

Sensors, cameras, radar, and lidar on the front of the vehicle don’t blink, and they swivel like the head of an owl to take in the surroundings. The sensing suite can also see in pitch black with thermal imaging. And all the hardware was designed to be easily swapped out for newer equipment as it becomes available.

How do I know if I’m getting in the right car?

Looking ahead to a day when these ride-share shuttles are ubiquitous on city streets, engineers foresee the need for a way for the vehicles to communicate with passengers so riders know which one to get into when five identical vans show up at the same time.

How much will a driverless ride cost?

GM and Cruise figure it already costs us about $5,000 a year to get around, whether that means expenses for your own car and parking or hailing someone else to drive you. Cruise CEO Dan Ammann says his vehicle is substantially less expensive to build and will have a lifespan of 1 million miles, and the ride service it offers will also be less expensive to use. That’s about as specific as Cruise is getting for now. When Cruise gets the government approvals it needs to commercially launch its ride-share service—potentially soon—it will start with the third-generation Cruise vehicles, which are based on the Chevrolet Bolt. They still have steering wheels and other controls, but the plan is to not put a driver behind them.







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