Driverless shuttle Cruise Origin
Cruise, backed by General Motors, is seeking final approval from California to begin commercializing its San Francisco robotaxi fleet.
The self-driving car company said Friday that it has filed permission to deploy autonomous vehicles with the California Public Utilities Commission. This is the last of six permits required from the CPCU and the California DMV to begin charging the public for travel.
It is unclear how long the review and approval process might take. Cruise is the first company to apply for a permit. Cruise CEO Dan Ammann recently said the company expects to begin commercialization as early as next year, pending regulatory approval.
If approved, Cruise could be the first company to operate a fleet of taxis without human drivers. The alphabet-backed Waymo has also received approval from the California DMV to charge robo-taxi rides, but it still requires a “safe driver” to be in the vehicle in the event of a problem.
According to the latest permit, cruise vehicles can travel on public roads in certain parts of San Francisco between 10:00 pm and 6:00 am, including in light rain or light fog. However, according to the DMV, they cannot exceed 30 miles per hour.
Commercializing autonomous vehicles has proven to be far more challenging than many predicted even a few years ago, but Waymo and Cruise are considered two of the leaders.
Cruise was expected to launch an on-call service in San Francisco in 2019. The company shelved those plans that year to conduct further testing and obtain the necessary regulatory approvals.
General Motors Cruise Test Cars
Source: General Motors
Cruise first received a DMV permit to use self-driving vehicles in June 2015. Since then, the company has gradually expanded its test sites and expanded its fleet to hundreds of autonomous vehicles while obtaining additional permits.
Cruise’s current fleet includes Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicles equipped with self-driving software and additional technologies such as cameras, radars and lidars that allow vehicles to “see” their environment.
Its next fleet is expected to consist of the Cruise Origin, a rectangular shuttle-like vehicle that was designed solely as a self-contained vehicle. Ammann said earlier this year that GM is expected to begin production of Origin for Cruise in early 2023.
GM acquired Cruise in 2016. Since then, it has been joined by investors such as Honda Motor, Softbank Vision Fund and, more recently, Walmart and Microsoft.