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This self-driving Chevy Bolt EV is ready for mass production, CEO says

It's the first to meet safety and redundancy-system standards

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Here's a perfect sign of our brave new automotive times: An engineer heading an important new technology unit for General Motors, one of the world's oldest automakers, took to a free blogging platform to announce that it had a fully self-driving electric vehicle that could be mass-produced.

Kyle Vogt, the CEO and founder of Cruise Automation, published a post to Medium this week to say that the driverless car startup, which GM purchased for $1 billion-plus in 2016, is "unveiling the world first mass-producible car designed to operate without a driver."

"This isn't just a concept design — it has airbags, crumple zones, and comfortable seats," Vogt writes. "It's assembled in a high-volume assembly plant capable of producing 100,000's of vehicles per year, and we'd like to keep that plant busy."

The autonomous Chevrolet Bolt EV is actually Cruise Automation's third generation self-driving car in 14 months, following up on earlier versions that were tested in San Francisco; Scottsdale, Ariz.; and the Detroit area. The plant Vogt is referring to is GM's Orion Assembly Plant near Detroit, which produces the Bolt.

The new third-gen autonomous Bolt, Vogt said, boasts almost completely new and fault-tolerant electrical, communication and actuation systems — the first iteration of the car to meet the company's redundancy and safety requirements. The systems architecture resembles that of a commercial airplane or spacecraft, with 4,085 wires and 1,066 connectors.

"All of these new systems are important, because a driverless vehicle can't rely on a human as a backup system," he writes. "If something on a vehicle fails while there is an attentive human in the driver's seat, they can yank the wheel or stomp on the brake pedal to avoid an incident. This isn't the case for a car with no driver, so we built backup systems. And in some cases we built backups for the backups — and backups for those systems, too."

GM has been adding staff and investing $14 million in a new R&D facility in San Francisco for Cruise. This new generation of self-driving Bolts will be put to use shuttling Cruise employees around San Francisco using the Cruise app.

Meanwhile, Vogt says Cruise is planning more generations of the self-driving Bolt EV as it seeks to work out kinks and assure that the cars can be mass-produced with high reliability and few defects. So don't expect these robot cars to come churning off the assembly lines just yet.

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