Cruise is laying off 8% of its staff. Here's how the self-driving car company is testing its tech virtually after the pandemic forced its vehicle fleet off California roads.

Cruise is still testing its cars while its fleet is off the roads in California amid the coronavirus pandemic.
General Motors' autonomous vehicle arm has 233 self-driving vehicles which are registered to drive in California and not in use right now, but every day it runs roughly 30,000 simulations to test for safety, passenger comfort, and other criteria. 
"Before our car hits the pavement, it's already driven thousands of miles," Head of Simulation Tom Boyd told Business Insider in an exclusive interview. 
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SAN FRANCISCO  — Autonomous vehicles, robots, and complex medical devices all require significant amounts of testing before they can be introduced to the general public, a timely and expensive process that can take years — if not decades — to complete. 
To bypass that, companies are increasingly looking to simulation to test out complex machines in the virtual world before going to wide-scale production. Nvidia, for example, runs millions of simulations to perfect its robots that the chipmaker is hoping can help individuals with disabilities perform the most basic day-to-day functions — like cooking. 
At Cruise, the self-driving arm of General Motors, those efforts are led by Tom Boyd — a former video game-maker who helped develop the popular titles "Sims 4" and "Star Wars: The Old Republic." 
And the simulations are going to get even more important after Cruise and other autonomous vehicle (AV) firms halted on-road testing in cities like San Francisco and Pittsburgh due to the coronavirus pandemic. 
"It's way easier to test the physical world in simulation if you can model it accurately," Boyd told Business Insider in an exclusive interview. "Before our car hits the pavement, it's already driven thousands of miles." 
And while Cruise said on Thursday it would lay off 8% of its staff, the company is "doubling down on our engineering work and engineering talent," a spokesperson told The Verge . 
'Torture and torment' 
The technology helps to solve one of the biggest hurdles in making self-driving cars ubiquitous on the road: training AVs to respond to dangerous threats. The vehicles need this training, but companies are hesitant to put the cars in real-world dangerous situations, for obvious reasons. 
Simulation allows Cruise and others to "torture and torment" the machines in the virtual world to make sure the response is safe and appropriate when they go on physical roads, according to Boyd. 
"We can use that to see what the reactions are, change the code. And we can even use simulation to create data that they can use to learn from so they can get better at changing their response to these situations," he said....