GM Cruise to double its autonomous-car crew to fulfill robo-taxi aim

General Motors’ autonomous-car unit is clearly going places, with plans announced this week to double its team by the end of 2019.

With its eye on the launch of a robo-taxi service before the end of the year, Cruise Automation will add an extra 1,000 workers to its team as the year progresses, Reuters reported this week.

Cruise spokesman Ray Wert told the news outlet that most of the new hires will be engineers tasked with further developing the San Francisco-based company’s driverless-vehicle technology.

Like other major players in the field, Cruise’s technology comprises an array of sensors, cameras, and radar that enable its test vehicles to safely navigate complex city streets. The goal is to build highly autonomous vehicles for deployment in a range of services, with robo-taxis its current priority.

General Motors (GM) is battling with Waymo and others to bring autonomous ridesharing services to the masses. Alphabet-owned Waymo, which was spun out of Google’s driverless-car project three years ago, scored a win at the end of 2018 when it became the first company to charge members of the public for rides in its autonomous vehicles, in Phoenix, Arizona. But large-scale deployment of such services has yet to happen.

Cruise was founded by Kyle Vogt and Dan Kan in 2013 and was acquired by GM three years later. The company has been gaining plenty of interest from other big-name parties, with Japanese tech giant SoftBank in 2018 agreeing to invest $2.25 billion in the business, and Honda following up in October with a $2.75 billion long-term cash injection.

Vogt said at the time that Honda will work with Cruise and GM to develop “an innovative, space-efficient autonomous vehicle that delivers an exceptional experience and minimizes congestion on crowded city streets.”

He added that sharing its technology with partners other than GM was the right move as it would ultimately help to bring autonomous vehicles to as many people as possible.

Commenting on its efforts to launch a full-fledged autonomous ridesharing service, GM president Dan Ammann said in 2018 that it was “moving as quickly as we can to get to the point where we can initially deploy the technology and then scale it,” adding, “This is an effort that requires very, very significant resources to pull off.”