When Cruise, the autonomous-vehicle company mostly owned by General Motors, unveiled its Origin driverless shuttle in January, COVID-19 hadn't reached the U.S.
That was just nine months ago, but it was "before 2020 became '2020,' " as Robert Grant, Cruise's vice president of global government affairs, put it in a blog post last week.
"COVID-19 changed everything, including the way many people think about shared vehicles," Grant wrote. "Sharing anything, it now feels, is a threat to our health."
But Cruise isn't giving up on its plans. In fact, it claims to be even more committed to using shared vehicles to fight traffic congestion and pollution in cities.
The company last week said it had applied for approval from federal regulators to deploy a limited number of Origins without steering wheels or pedals after production starts late next year or in early 2022.
Nobody knows what the world will look like by then, but Cruise worked with a Harvard-trained epidemiologist to tweak the vehicle's design for the era of social distancing.
Instead of four passengers on two wide seats facing each other, capacity will be limited to two people at a time. They will be separated by an "elegant, clear barrier that would have felt extremely claustrophobic in a traditional car" bisecting the interior from front to rear, Grant explained.
The ventilation system will increase air circulation, and the vehicle will be sanitized more frequently than originally planned "to ensure our riders are completely confident that their shared ride of the future is as safe as possible," Grant wrote. "Even in a pandemic."