September 21, 2023
Cruise has revealed it is developing a driverless taxi for people with disabilities.
The General Motors subsidiary showed off its Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV) on social media.
And it said that should the WAV get regulatory approval, a production version could be in operation as early as next year.
The WAV, hailed by Cruise as a world first, looks very similar to its purpose-built Origin autonomous vehicle, which has been undergoing testing on public roads in San Francisco and Austin. Earlier this month, it was claimed to be “just days away” from being approved for use by the National Highway Transport Safety Administration.
Writing on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt explained why there was a need for a vehicle such as the WAV. “The transportation status quo is not only unsafe, it is inaccessible,” he said. “Over 41 million Americans with disabilities deserve better transportation options.”
Determined to give these people more independence, Cruise set about creating a vehicle designed specifically to accommodate wheelchair users, in tandem with wheelchair manufacturers BraunAbility and Q’Straint, as well as members of its own Cruise Accessibility Council.
They provided feedback on user experience and securement systems, but according to Vogt: “Designing a self-driving vehicle that accommodates as many wheelchair users as possible is a distinct technical challenge that has never been done before.”
The videos demonstrate how the WAV would work, with a pre-production vehicle shown lowering itself to the curb, and then deploying a ramp for wheelchair users to go up, before different securement options – docking and straps – are used to keep the wheelchair in place while on the move.
There are also features that allow users to make journeys as comfortable as possible, with Cruise highlighting “easy-to-use controls” that are accessible from the wheelchair and double as a grab point. These allow riders to unlock the wheelchair, call remote assistance or start and stop the ride. It’s even possible to operate the doors and ramp from their mobile phone.
And the company says it intends to refine the WAV further, which will be made easier thanks to its relationship with General Motors. “Most WAVs are modified from existing vehicles on the market,” it pointed out. “Our close partnership with GM allows us to create new features faster.”
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