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EV/AV Report: Electric vehicles get new tow tech; while self-driving vehicles prepare to cruise again

Toronto, Ontario — In this weekly electric and autonomous vehicle report, Rivian patents a software update to allow its electric vehicles (EV) to be free-wheel towed; while GM Cruise prepares to resume robotaxi testing

Take a load off

Rivian has announced that it is developing a software that would allow its EVs to be free-wheel towed, according to a recent patent application.

Free-wheel towing refers to when a vehicle is towed behind another vehicle with all four wheels on the ground.

In the patent application, Rivian proposes adding a software made for free-wheel towing to its EV pickup trucks and SUVs alongside the various drive modes and other software-enabled features already available.

The patent also describes how a free-wheel towing mode would disconnect the motor or motors that normally power the rear wheels, but keep the front-axle motor or motors engaged. In this instance, torque would still be applied to the front wheels to keep the vehicle from rolling out of sync with the towing vehicle.

The imagined software would use a vehicle’s existing sensors to measure wheel speed and gradient, applying torque when necessary and cutting it off at a predetermined threshold.

As with all patents, there is no guarantee that Rivian will ever move forward with this idea. However, the automaker wouldn’t have to wait for a refresh or redesign to do it because it would be a software fix rather than a manufacturing process.

Cruising again

General Motors’ (GM) Cruise autonomous driving unit is nearing the resumption of robotaxi testing in the coming weeks, with Houston and Dallas, Texas emerging as potential locations.

This move is following the grounding of Cruise’s fleet last year due to pedestrian accidents.

Before suspending operations over safety concerns last October, the company had hundreds of cars in San Francisco and smaller numbers in Austin and Houston, Texas and Phoenix, Arizona.

“We have not set a timeline for deployment,” Cruise spokesperson Pat Morrissey said in a statement. “Our goal is to relaunch in one city with manually driven vehicles and supervised testing as soon as possible once we have taken steps to rebuild trust with regulators and the public. We are in the process of meeting with officials in select markets to gather information, share updates and rebuild trust.”

GM says Cruise’s current suspension in California hinders its ability to resume operations in San Francisco where it is based, but the company is hopeful about upcoming testing.

The company hasn’t made a final decision yet on which city will be first for testing. Cruise is talking to regulators and city officials to make sure the testing efforts are welcome before making its move, another spokesperson said.

In particular, efforts are reportedly advanced in Houston, Texas, where Cruise is preparing to dispatch safety drivers. Here, the testing could begin in the coming months, a spokesperson concluded.

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