California regulators have approved the state’s first fleet of taxi robots

California regulators on Thursday shed light on a robotic taxi service to start charging passengers for driverless travel to San Francisco, for the first time in a state where dozens of companies have tried to teach vehicles to drive on increasingly busy roads.

The California Public Utilities Commission has unanimously given Cruise, a company controlled by automaker General Motors, permission to run unmanned vehicles. Regulators issued the permit despite safety concerns due to Cruz’s inability to pick up and drop off passengers on the sidewalk in their autonomous taxis, which required vehicles to park twice in lanes.

The trip service will initially consist of only 30 electric vehicles that will carry passengers in less congested areas of San Francisco from 10pm to 6pm. These restrictions are designed to minimize the likelihood that taxi robots will cause property damage, injury, or death if anything goes awry. It will also allow regulators to assess how the technology works before allowing the service to expand.

Cruz and another pioneer of robot cars, Waymo, have already charged passengers for travel to parts of San Francisco on autonomous cars with a backup driver to take control if something goes wrong with technology.

But now Cruise is allowed to charge for travel in vehicles that will have no people other than passengers – an ambition that has been pursued for more than a decade by a variety of technology companies and traditional automakers. Driverless cars have been valued as a way to make taxi rides less expensive while reducing the number of traffic accidents and deaths caused by reckless drivers.

Gil West, Cruise’s chief operating officer, in his blog described the vote Thursday as “a giant leap for our mission here at Cruise to save lives, help save the planet and save people time and money”. He said the company will start gradually rolling out its paid trips.

Waymo, which began as a secret project under Google’s online powerhouse in 2009, has been operating without a driver in the Phoenix area since October 2020, but navigating the density and complexity of more congested cities such as San Francisco has become more challenging. problems for overcoming taxi robots.

This is one of the reasons why the newly approved Cruise without a Driver service in San Francisco is so tightly controlled. Apart from the fact that the Cruise service without a driver will be limited to places and times where there is less traffic and pedestrians on the streets, also will not be allowed to work in heavy rain or fog.

Although Cruz’s bid for a taxi driver’s service in San Francisco has received widespread support from supporters who hope the technology will be viable in other cities, some transportation experts have called on the Utilities Commission to exercise caution.

“Many of the stated benefits (autonomous vehicles) have not been demonstrated, and some claims are virtually unfounded,” said Ryan Rousseau, director of transportation in Auckland, California, last month.

Just reaching this point took much longer than many companies expected when they started working on standalone technology.

Uber, the largest rental service, expects to have 75,000 self-driving cars on the roads by 2019 and drive a fleet of taxis without a driver in at least 13 cities in 2022, according to court documents filed in a high-profile case accusing the company of stealing trade secrets from Waymo . Uber has completed the sale of its Aurora autonomous driving unit in 2020 and still relies almost exclusively on drivers who were harder to recruit after the pandemic.

And Tesla CEO Elon Musk has promised that his company with electric cars will run a fleet of taxi robots by the end of 2020. That hasn’t happened, though Musk still promises it will eventually.

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