General Motors may soon host the world’s largest fleet of self-driving vehicles through its test run of automated Chevy Bolts.
The automaker will appears poised to roll out 300 of its self-driving compact crossovers for testing, according to a filing with the Federal Communications Commission, and in doing so, knock Waymo and 80 test vehicles off its mantle. While the automaker hasn’t verified that fact, an engineering association’s publication did its own detective work to reveal what it is up to.
IEEE Spectrum, a news publication from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, put the pieces together by finding out that an automotive supplier and GM both filed for FCC approval to secure a radio frequency needed in a self-driving system.
Alps Electric, a Japanese auto supplier, filed to test 3,000 of its new Ukaza radars with the FCC. To do so on a radio frequency not approved by FCC, companies are required to apply for a Special Temporary Authority (STA) to secure access. In the filing, Alps Electric explained that each vehicle tested would need 10 Ukaza units, and that so far the number of vehicles tested in the program is 300.
While the Japanese supplier kept quiet on which automaker was using its radar system, GM filed an STA for use of the Ukaza radar. GM asked that the number of units be removed from the FCC filing to protect “business sensitive information.”
The engineering publication dug a bit deeper and found a telling comment on the LinkedIn page of GM engineer Robert Reagan, who had written the FCC filing:
“Ensure that our parts can do what they need to do and arrive at the assembly plant on time. For now, those parts are the radar sensors on the Chevrolet Bolt Autonomous Vehicle,” Reagan posted on his LinkedIn account.
The number of tested autonomous Bolts could go up to 462 units, based on another FCC filing. GM had applied for the same type of FCC clearance for a medium-range radar made by German auto parts supplier Bosch. It would initially be applied to 162 vehicles, based on information IEEE Spectrum obtained.
The STA requests filed with the FCC will need to be approved, which is expected to happen by the end of April.
In February, Reuters reported through internal sources that GM is planning on taking that fleet number up much higher.
Two sources familiar with GM’s plan said that thousands of self-driving all-electric Chevrolet Bolts will roll out by 2018, with most of them going to ride-hailing partner Lyft starting in 2018.
That would only be for testing, as the automaker hadn’t revealed plans to sell them to the general public, sources said.
Lyft declined to comment, but GM didn’t denied the report.
“We do not provide specific details on potential future products or technology rollout plans. We have said that our AV (autonomous vehicle) technology will appear in an on-demand ride sharing network application sooner than you might think,” GM said in a statement.
Several companies continue to take testing self-driving vehicles seriously as the technology moves toward deployment in vehicles. Google’s Waymo continues leading the way for now, and Ford wants to bring out self-driving ride sharing fleets in 2021. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is providing a few Chrysler Pacificas to Waymo for conversion to self-driving test minivans.
The latest news focused on Apple quashing speculation that it’s been secretly trying out autonomous technology by gaining permission from California to test out its self-driving fleet in the state.