GM Gets “Real” with Latest Self-Driving Chevy Bolt

General Motors Co. has officially unveiled the third-generation of its prototype self-driving Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicle.

The carmaker’s Cruise Automation unit, which developed the software controls for the vehicle, hails the latest prototypes as the first mass-producible car that meets the "redundancy and safety requirements" necessary to operate without a driver.

GM has produced 50 of the third-generation models at its Orion Township, Mich., plant. The cars will be part of a test fleet—initially with humans behind the wheel—that Cruise Automation will use for its employees in San Francisco.

Describing the vehicle as the "first real self-driving car," Cruise Automation CEO and founder Kyle Vogt notes the automated Bolt is more than a concept. As proof, he points to the car’s “airbags, crumple zones and comfortable seats.”

The third-generation autonomous model features “fault-tolerant electrical, communication and actuation systems that are unique to a driverless vehicle," Vogt writes in a blog post on medium.com. This includes some sensors and controllers Cruise Automation built from scratch because “nobody else was building them," according to Vogt.

Cruise Automation already had begun testing its first-generation autonomous system in retrofitted Bolts by the time GM completed its acquisition of the company in mid-2016. The second-generation models launched in June have the key elements for autonomous driving but not "the redundancy and safety systems" needed for full driverless operation.

GM has produced 130 of the second-generation autonomous Bolts. The company says it has completed hundreds of thousands of miles of testing of the first two generation models on roads in Arizona, California and Michigan.

More than 2,000 Cruise Automation and other GM engineers contributed to the development of the latest Bolt prototype and a fourth-generation model already is in the works. The goal, Vogt says, is to create something that will one day drive “significantly better” than a person.