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GM expands self-driving tests to Manhattan

GM's Cruise division, currently testing self-driving cars in San Francisco, will soon run its cars in a 5 square mile area of Manhattan.

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
2 min read
Cruise-modified Chevrolet Bolt
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Cruise-modified Chevrolet Bolt

Cruise's modified Chevrolet Bolts have become a regular sight on the streets of San Francisco.


Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, announced that GM would begin testing self-driving cars in the traffic-throttled streets of Manhattan early next year. The self-driving cars, based on the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt, are run by Cruise Automation, a company acquired by GM in 2016.

Cruise currently tests its modified Chevy Bolts in San Francisco, Detroit and Scottsdale, Arizona. At a conference sponsored by the Wall Street Journal, GM President Dan Ammann said "In a more complex environment, our cars can learn more quickly. Now we're taking that one step further. Manhattan is the most complex driving environment."

Self-driving cars are being developed by a wide range of companies, from automakers to tier one equipment suppliers to big technology players, such as Google and Apple. This technology could reduce or eliminate the over 1 million deaths caused by cars around the world each year. Many self-driving cars, manned by a human safety driver, are currently being tested on public roads, and they are expected to enter regular service as robo-taxis or private cars starting in 2020.

A GM spokesman said "We've completed mapping 5 square miles in lower Manhattan." High-definition mapping, a 3D-representation of an area that includes buildings and other structures, has become a preferred strategy in developing self-driving cars, as they can reference the map against what their sensors see to determine their precise location. 

As in the other test areas, the Cruise vehicles will have a human safety driver. Covering real-world miles on public roads, shared with human-driven cars, lets the self-driving cars encounter many different traffic situations that occur every day, and learn how best to respond. With self-driving car development, once one car learns how to handle a specific situation, that knowledge is shared with all other cars in its fleet.

In a statement issued by the New York Governor's office, Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt said, "Testing in New York will accelerate the timeline to deploying self-driving cars at scale. New York City is one of the most densely populated places in the world and provides new opportunities to expose our software to unusual situations, which means we can improve our software at a much faster rate."