Cruise, the autonomous vehicle company backed by General Motors, has unveiled a wheelchair-accessible robot taxi that could start picking up passengers with disabilities as early as next year.

The vehicle is a version of the Cruise driverless Origin vehicles that lack traditional controls such as a steering wheel and pedals. A retractable ramp has been added, plus there are floor clips inside for wheelchair users.

More than 25 million Americans have disabilities that make traveling outside the home difficult. Historically, automakers have offered little relief by producing vehicles that are either unaffordable or cost thousands of dollars to retrofit. Traditional transportation services are notoriously inaccessible and often refuse service to people with disabilities.

According to Cruise, they built their first autonomous vehicle with modularity in mind. From the low floor and high roof to the double-wide doors and removable seats, Cruise sees the Origin as a blank canvas that can be modified based on customer feedback.

The company said the vehicle is designed to pick up and drop off wheelchair users from a four-inch curb. As of now, it can only pick up people using a specific brand of wheelchair. People who use a wheelchair may need a companion to help with the straps.

The new vehicle will begin closed-circuit testing with users next month. Pending regulatory approval and user feedback, Origin could hit the streets for pilot testing as early as 2024. Origin needs an exemption from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration safety rules so the company can make more of them.

Source: The Verge