Cruise has taken a major step toward its goal of commercializing a fully driverless taxi service.
The self-driving technology startup, whose main shareholder is General Motors, was given permission on Friday by the California Public Utilities Commission to offer rides to the public in its driverless prototypes on Californian roads.
Cruise is the first company in the state to be given such permission. However, it won’t be allowed to charge for the rides just yet, and it will need to submit passenger safety plans and quarterly reports about its prototypes.
Cruise started testing fully driverless prototypes in California last December, and primarily in busy San Francisco. This sets Cruise apart from many rivals which are developing their self-driving systems in relatively quiet surroundings with wide streets. In contrast, Cruise’s prototypes encounter around 3,200 cut-ins by other drivers, 3,000 double-parked cars, and hundreds of cyclists each and every week, according to the company.
Cruise’s prototypes rank at Level 4 on the SAE scale of self-driving capability, as the cars are limited in the areas in which they can operate on their own. The final goal is Level 5, where a self-driving car is able to operate at the same level as a human driver. While Level 5 might be a decade or more away, companies are already offering commercial services involving Level 4 self-driving cars.
Alphabet’s Waymo One service has been up and running in parts of Phoenix, Arizona, for the past two years, and China’s Baidu launched its Apollo Go service in Beijing in May. Cruise was originally due to start its own service in 2019 but missed the deadline. The company hasn’t given an update on when a service might be launched, at least in the United States. In April, the company said it secured a deal with Dubai to be the city’s exclusive provider for driverless taxis between 2023 and 2029.
Cruise’s self-driving prototypes, of which there are roughly 200 on the road, are based on the Chevrolet Bolt EV. Once its self-driving system is ready, Cruise will switch to using its own shuttle vehicle known as the Origin, the design of which was first shown in early 2020.
In addition to transporting passengers, Cruise is looking at delivery of goods. The company is working closely with retail giant Walmart, one of its investors, to trial a delivery service.