Written by Theo Koenig – December 31, 2020
Reviewed by Asaf Kedem
While cars themselves have been constantly evolving over the past centuries, the big automotive manufacturers themselves have remained largely unchanged. This past decade, however, major technology companies such as Apple, Amazon, Google, along with startups such as Zoox, Alpha and Nuro, have begun building fully electric, and sometimes even autonomous vehicles. For the first time in the history of the automobile, software is beginning to take precedence over hardware.
A perfect example of this is Cruise. Since its acquisition by General Motors in 2016, the company has driven autonomous, fully electric vehicles, for over 2 million miles on the streets of San Francisco. In June of this year, the company completed its 50,000th autonomous delivery of essentials on behalf of San Francisco foodbanks in an initiative to help combat the effects of COVID-19. The beauty of Cruise is that the company designs both software and hardware for their autonomous vehicles, while aiming to one day launch the Cruise ride-hailing service.
In January of 2020 the company took its first major steps in this direction by launching the Cruise Origin. The self-driving, all-electric vehicle offers 3 times more interior space, despite not being bigger than the average car. This is achieved by removing the engine, steering wheel, and essentially completely rethinking the interior of their vehicle. 3rd generation versions of the Origin are currently running on the streets of San Francisco, but the ride-hailing service is unfortunately only available for Cruise employees.
Over the years the company has raised $7.25 billion in capital. One major reason for this, according to investors Softbank, is that almost all components are built in-house. From hardware components such as cameras, radars, lidar, sensors and acoustics, all the way to machine learning software and an intuitive-to-use mobile application, the company rarely outsources. That being said, the big exception is that the Origin is powered by an all-electric platform built by General Motors. According to Cruise, the sensors on their vehicles capture petabytes (that’s 1015) of data on a daily basis. Through a combination of artificial information and machine learning, the company processes this information through a self-built cloud platform that allows the operational systems to continually improve as they drive.
The company differs from its self-driving, electric rivals in one key area: Cruise wants the Origin to be modular – meaning it’s upgradeable and there is no need to roll out new fleets each time a new sensor, computer or drive platform is created. Ideally, the vehicles are designed with a lifespan of 1 million miles – 6 times more than the average car, according to Cruise.
Officially the company has not revealed any specific details regarding speed, horsepower, or battery or range. Then again, considering that the vehicles are not available for purchase to individual consumers, these details may never be released.
Auto Trendy’s take:
Over the past couple of years, the market for self-driving vehicles has become incredibly competitive. Launches have been taking place left and right (even we have a tough time keeping track). It appears the difference will not be made in the hardware aspect of manufacturing, but rather in the software department. Although electric drive platforms and battery innovations are exploding in numbers, the ability to systematically analyze the vast amounts of data collected, with limited human support, is going to be key. For the first time in history, the competitive advantage in the automotive world is originating from the coders, and not the engineers.