Autonomous car startup Voyage is being acquired by Cruise, with the GM-backed driverless vehicle company confirming deal rumors earlier this month. Voyage distinguished itself from most of the rest of the self-driving car ecosystem with both its deployment – in that it actually had an autonomous vehicle service running in the real world, rather than just plans for one – and its target audience.
Rather than try to tackle city-wide service, Voyage focused its efforts on contained communities. Specifically, it currently offers autonomous ride-hailing in two retirement communities, one in San Jose, CA, and the other in Florida.
There, it provides transportation for older users, who don’t want – or are unable – to drive themselves. That includes people with partial or no vision, mobility issues, or other health problems that prevent them from operating a vehicle. It’s also made deployments more straightforward, given Voyage doesn’t have to deal with mapping outside of those areas.
“As one of the first AV companies to serve customers, Voyage has proven that we can execute on the challenge of delivering sound unit economics in self-driving,” Oliver Cameron, co-founder and CEO at Voyage, wrote today. “Delivering self-driving technology is hard, but building a viable self-driving business is harder. Now at Cruise, we are excited to put these unique advantages to work and deliver the safest, most affordable transportation alternative for everyone.”
Cruise launched in 2013, and was acquired by General Motors in 2016. Operated independently, it most recently raised $2 billon more from GM, Microsoft, Honda, and others. The funding round came roughly a year after Cruise revealed its Origin, a custom-designed autonomous pod with no traditional vehicle controls.
Designed by GM and Honda, and using the GM Ultium platform for electric vehicles, Origin is expected to go into production at the GM Factory ZERO plant in Detroit. Indeed, it’s the EV which Voyage’s Cameron sounds most enthusiastic about.
“If you could build a new transportation system from the ground up, the Cruise Origin would form the foundation,” he writes. “The Origin is a powerful reimagining of the car, akin to the Macintosh of personal computers. It’s designed for a future where the car is entirely self-driven, all-electric, and shared, and, yet again, Cruise — with its deep pockets and automotive partners — is uniquely positioned to deliver the tremendous benefits of the Origin.”
Voyage has currently been using retrofitted Chrysler Pacifica minivans, equipped with its various autonomous driving systems. Users of the service can summon a car from their phone. While the AVs are capable of driving itself, they also support teleoperation, where remote human drivers can pilot them from afar.