At the beginning of 2020, General Motors‘ subsidiary Cruise pulled the wraps off of its new shared autonomous shuttle, the Cruise Origin. Just as Cruise was able to start a conversation about the future of mobility, though, the world’s collective focus shifted to COVID-19 and how we can protect ourselves and our loved ones from the potentially deadly virus – and rightfully so.
As Cruise’s vice president of government affairs, Robert Grant, pointed out in a recent Medium post, “COVID-19 changed everything, including the way many people think about shared vehicles.” Sharing anything now can feel like a threat to one’s health, so how likely is it that people will want to hop into a compact Cruise Origin AV with strangers, rather than just take their own car or a bicycle?
Cruise remains steadfast in its belief that shared autonomous shuttles like the Cruise Origin are the future of the mobility industry, so the company has been busy working on solutions for protecting passengers from COVID-19, or any other airborne illnesses. One idea it came up with was to put a plastic partition in the middle of the vehicle, which separates the two sides of the pod so airborne particles cannot pass through.
“Thanks to an already spacious cabin, we were able to avoid energy hungry methods like UV-C light, in favor of an elegant, clear barrier that would have felt extremely claustrophobic in a traditional car,” Grant said in the Medium post.
In addition to the barrier, which Cruise says will “completely isolate each person,” the company will also limit the capacity of all Cruise Origin shuttles to two passengers at a time. The robotaxi, which was developed with input from GM technical partner Honda, also has a unique ventilation system that will ensure strong fresh air circulation throughout the cabin.
Grant also outlined other common-sense measures the company will take if the pandemic still persists after the launch of Cruise Origin in a few years.
“While the pandemic persists, every Origin will also provide hand sanitizer and wipes, and require masks to be worn by all passengers,” Grant said. “An already robust cleaning schedule will be increased to ensure our riders are completely confident that their shared ride of the future is as safe as possible. Even in a pandemic.”
GM recently received approval to begin testing its Chevrolet Bolt EV-based Cruise AV prototypes on public roads in San Francisco without an operator in the driver’s seat. The Cruise AV test vehicles are being used to develop Cruise’s AI software before the Cruise Origin enters production at Factory Zero in the coming years. Cruise hopes to eventually operate an Uber-style ride-hailing service with the Origin, allowing it to capitalize on the mobility solution without having to pay a large portion of the profits to a human driver.