In The Race Toward Self-Driving Cars, GM Has Something Apple And Google’s Waymo Lack: A Car – Forbes

Workers adding sensor roof rack to Chevrolet Bolt EV for autonomous testing.

GM Photo

Workers adding sensor roof rack to Chevrolet Bolt EV for autonomous testing.

Pity GM: On the day it chose to tout its substantial advancements in the development of self-driving cars, the Detroit automaker’s news was overshadowed by confirmation from Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, that the iPhone giant is developing its own autonomous driving technology.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Cook called autonomous driving systems “a core technology that we view as very important” and likened the effort to “the mother of all AI projects.” Like Google’s self-driving car unit, Waymo, Apple is intent on disrupting the automotive industry the way it upended the computer and music businesses.

Traditional automakers have every reason to fear the big tech players’ intrusion into their 100-year-old industry. It’s ripe for reinvention. And every player would like to get its hands on the data that is collected from self-driving cars.

But GM, which is developing self-driving cars with the help of Cruise Automation, a San Francisco startup it acquired in 2016, has one thing that Google and Apple lack: automotive manufacturing expertise.

Its newly expanded fleet of 130 self-driving test vehicles was manufactured at GM’s Orion Assembly plant near Detroit, in the same plant and by the same UAW workforce that produces the plug-in Chevrolet Bolt EV and the gasoline-powered Chevy Sonic.

The tech companies might not see that as an advantage. They’re focused on collecting and processing the data required to maneuver a vehicle around its environment safely and efficiently. Software is their business, and they’d just as soon leave the hardware to others.

Apple had initially been seeking to build its own car, but then changed direction in 2016 to focus on developing the underlying technology. And rather than build its own cars, Waymo is retrofitting vehicles from companies like FiatChrysler and Honda for its autonomous development work. As Forbes contributor Sam Abuelsamid noted, some car brands might end up as mere suppliers to these technology players.

GM, on the other hand, sees value in combining its engineering and manufacturing know-how with Cruise Automation’s expertise in robotics and artificial intelligence. “No other company has the technology, engineering and manufacturing ability to build autonomous vehicles at scale,” GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra said at a factory event Tuesday.

The new crop of 130 autonomous Bolt EVs are outfitted with GM’s next-generation self-driving technology which includes a ”sensor roof rack” containing lidar technology and a plethora of cameras as well as “articulated radar” systems bolted to the side of the car. It’s all designed to help the cars detect and understand their surroundings so they can make logical driving decisions.

Combined with 50 autonomous vehicles already being tested in San Francisco, Scottsdale, Arizona and metro Detroit, GM will now have 180 fully robotic cars on the road in test fleets.

“This production milestone brings us one step closer to making our vision of personal mobility a reality,” Barra. “Expansion of our real-world test fleet will help ensure that our self-driving vehicles meet the same strict standards for safety and quality that we build into all of our vehicles.”

“To achieve what we want from self-driving cars, we must deploy them at scale,” added Cruise Automation CEO Kyle Vogt. “By developing the next-generation self-driving platform in San Francisco and manufacturing these cars in Michigan, we are creating the safest and most consistent conditions to bring our cars to the most challenging urban roads that we can find.”

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