Try as we might, we can’t stop the oncoming autonomous vehicle revolution. I, for one, can’t wait for the days when I no longer have to be burdened by the daily time drain that is driving. Time spent behind the wheel might be enjoyable for some, but for many people driving is a chore, a means to an end as opposed to a meaningful activity in and of itself. Lucky for them (and me), driverless vehicles have already successfully logged hundreds millions of miles on U.S. roads and will become a more common sight over the next few years. In a huge announcement that may signal just how soon we might all give up the act of driving, General Motors has announced that they will begin shipping vehicles without steering wheels beginning as soon as 2019.
In a news release issued this week, General Motors says the American auto giant has filed a petition with the Department of Transportation seeking permission to ship vehicles with no steering wheel, pedal, or any other manual controls. The petition only applies to the 2019 Cruise AV, which Chevy claims is “the first production-ready vehicle built from the start to operate safely on its own.” According to their 2018 Self-Driving Safety Report, Chevy says the release of the steering-wheel-free 2019 Cruise AV isn’t just about introducing drivers to the convenience of autonomous driving, but about ushering in a new area of road safety:
With its advanced sensor systems, the Cruise AV has the capability to see the environment around it, in 360 degrees, day and night. It is designed to identify pedestrians in a crosswalk, or an object darting suddenly into its path, and to respond accordingly. Our Cruise AV has the potential to provide a level of safety far beyond the capabilities of humans. As our experience and iterative improvements continue, we will advance closer to our zero crashes vision.
I’ll admit: as much as I can’t wait for driverless vehicles, the sight of a wheel-less drivers seat is a bit unnerving at first. For those of use who have spent most of our lives driving, the steering wheel can sometimes seem like an extension of our bodies. By taking the steering wheel out of the car, Chevy has essentially removed our primary point of interaction and familiarity from the Cruise AV. Will drivers accept a car with no steering wheel? Chevy is about to find out.