Cruise reveals wheelchair-accessible robotaxi with testing to begin next month

Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt and other executives revealed Thursday in San Francisco a prototype of a custom-built, wheelchair-accessible, self-driving robotaxi and said that closed-course testing of the driverless vehicle would begin in October. 

The vehicle, called the Cruise WAV, is the result of three years of product design, development and testing by Cruise and GM along with its partners on the project BraunAbility and Q'Straint. The WAV looks similar to the company's purpose-built Origin vehicle, which was revealed as a prototype in January 2020 and is now being tested on public roads in Austin and Miami.

On a social media, Vogt posted a video that shows all of the features, including that the vehicle lowers to the curb, an automatic ramp, two securement options including docking and a hook.

Cruise San Francisco wheelchair
Cruise San Francisco wheelchair

Image Credits: Screenshot/Cruise

In this first generation, the vehicle will be able to serve people who use some of the more popular wheelchair models Permobil M Series, Quantum Q6 Edge, and SM Quickie Q500 / 700M / Q7 chairs. Manual wheelchair users may need to bring a companion in order to secure the straps, according to Cruise.

Cruise noted this is a generation-one version of the WAV. The company, working with the disability community, including members of its own Cruise Accessibility Council, said the goal is to make the vehicle accessible to even more users in future generations.

Before the Origin Cruise or WAV can operate commercially it will have to pass one major regulatory hurdle. Cruise and GM has petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to be able to produce (and put on public roads) a purpose-built autonomous vehicle without a steering wheel or pedals.

Earlier this month, Vogt said the company is close to getting the green light for regulators. NHTSA told TechCrunch that no decision to grant or deny GM’s petition has been reached, nor has a deadline been set for such a decision.

Federal safety regulators are expected to announce a new rule-making in September. If passed, it also will benefit Amazon’s Zoox, which has built and is testing a similar type of vehicle to Cruise’s Origin.