The number one U.S. automaker, General Motors (NYSE:GM), is looking to get rid of steering wheels and human or manual controls in its autonomous vehicles. The company has petitioned the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for approval of the project.
For the first time, NHTSA is reviewing a petition where all the driving decisions in the vehicle would be system-driven, with no chance for the involvement of human drivers.
The Detroit-based automaker petitioned the NHTSA regarding testing of self-driving vehicles without human controls back in January 2018. Acting NHTSA Administrator James Owens said the petition is still under consideration. However, it is expected that the company will be given the go-ahead next year.
"I expect we're going to be able to move forward with these petitions soon -- as soon as we can." Owens said. He added that the NHTSA would "definitely" arrive at a decision anyhow in 2020.
At the moment, the NHTSA officials are "crawling through these petitions because we want to make sure" that the autonomous cars to be deployed by the company on the streets are safe like other cars and trucks on the road.
On being given the green light, General Motors would be the first company to run autonomous cars without steering wheels. Waymo, the Google-affiliated self-driving car company, has started a self-driving taxi service without human drivers, but Waymo's vehicles still have steering wheels and pedals.
Initially, General Motors hoped to be commercially sending out vehicles on American roads by the end of the year. However, the company's self-driving unit Cruise said in July that it needed to perform more testing before the commercial deployment.
Besides General Motors, San Francisco-based autonomous vehicle startup Nuro has also petitioned the NHTSA, seeking permission to not to include a windshield in its autonomous vehicles.
Removing the steering wheels and pedals automatically increases the cabin space for carmakers to apply creativity by enhancing the infotainment system of the car. It also improves space for designing interiors. However, the automakers need to ascertain that the required safety standards of the NHTSA are met before deploying these vehicles.
Disclosure: I do not hold any positions in the stocks mentioned.
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