Automotive

California permits Cruise to launch fully driverless taxi services

California permits Cruise to l...
GM's robo-taxi subsidiary Cruise is set to commence the first fully autonomous taxi service in San Francisco, thanks to a permit that allows its vehicles to run without backup drivers on board
GM's robo-taxi subsidiary Cruise is set to commence the first fully autonomous taxi service in San Francisco, thanks to a permit that allows its vehicles to run without backup drivers on board
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A fully autonomous, commercial robo-taxi service with no backup drivers is about to launch in San Francisco, after the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) issued its first-ever Driverless Deployment Permit to GM subsidiary Cruise.

This permit marks the first time that robocabs have been allowed to take paying customers without keeping a backup driver on board to handle sticky situations the AI isn't ready to deal with yet.

According to CPUC, "Cruise may offer passenger service to the general public in its fleet of 30 all-electric AVs without a safety driver present on select streets in San Francisco at maximum speed of 30 mph, from the hours of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily when weather conditions do not include heavy rain, heavy fog, heavy smoke, hail, sleet, or snow. Cruise is authorized to collect fares for these rides but cannot offer shared rides between passengers from different parties at this time."

The "select streets" in question do not currently include downtown San Francisco, and the hours permitted are obviously chosen to keep these things off the street when there's lots of cars on the road. Shared rides are currently forbidden to attempt to assure passengers they're safe from assaults and harassment from other riders.

The proposal was passed despite a couple of concerns raised in the public consultation process. Disability Rights California complained that the service fails to meet the needs of certain disability groups, since it doesn't currently provide wheelchair-accessible vehicles or auxiliary aids for hearing-impaired and deafblind people.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency also expressed concern that Cruise's autonomous vehicles had occasionally performed passenger pickups and drop-offs without finding a legal place to stop, pulling to a halt in an active travel lane and holding up other traffic – but Cruise pointed out that as commercial vehicles, its cabs are allowed to do so when "reasonably necessary."

Ultimately, the city believes autonomous electric taxis will make the streets safer and the air cleaner, while protecting passenger safety and improving access to transport, particularly for the disadvantaged.

Cruise will begin rolling the service out gradually, and the company expects to expand its fleet and apply for extended capabilities in time.

Source: Cruise

9 comments
9 comments
TedTheJackal
This could be done faster, better, and safer as a global effort. If the control algorithms and operational data were standardized and centralized then all the data from around the world could be used to create a single best AI vehicle control system. Lives and money would be saved. Then maybe we could create autonomous politicians.
Jinpa
No one to yell at, but also no one to have to tip, or to help with baggage, or to help the handicapped get safely in or out. All of this to avoid paying a living wage to a driver?
guzmanchinky
I can't wait to try this next time I'm up there.
Nelson Hyde Chick
In 38 states the most common job is driver of some sort, truck, taxi, Uber, bus, panel van, etc... What will happen to those people when they are obsolete?
Daishi
@Jinpa The total labor costs of autonomous vehicles vs a taxi with a driver is currently much much higher. Most likely 10x or more. There are hundreds if not thousands of people behind the scenes supporting a few vehicles moving around the city without driver. Maybe some distant day in the future it will be different but as of now they eliminated one low paying job of driving at the cost of creating several more with better pay.
TedTheJackal
I've trained pilots and coded autopilots and can change a tire so let me 'splain something to everybody: computers are much cheaper than people and better at operating vehicles and will shortly for the most part supplant them at that. Get used to it. That having been said, they can have my Yamaha when they pry it from my cold dead hands. Which they actually may.
dr.kerrysmith
"In 38 states the most common job is driver of some sort, truck, taxi, Uber, bus, panel van, etc... What will happen to those people when they are obsolete?" Well, they can all become poets. Until AIs do that better, too. Face it, the machines are going to be better than us at most routine jobs.
Marcotico
@TedTheJackal - I work at a govt. agency and used to work on emerging mobility tech including AVs and EVs. You're right about global standards being better and safer, but I can tell from experience with EVs that going from one level up to another (state to federal to global) slows the process down. There is a tension between deploying faster and learning lessons, and creating standards in improve efficiency.

The EU was to able to create a consortium of electricity providers, EV Charging companies and vehicle makers to arrive at EV charging standards (both hardware and backend software) fairly quickly. In California on the other hand, the CPUC regulated that electricity providers couldn't install stations because they thought it was self dealing (creating addtl. customers for your own electricity). In the private sector, companies like ChargePoint marketed easy to install and run charging stations, but they also created insulated proprietary systems in order to capture and retain market share.

When it comes to AVs automakers want weak national safety standards that supersede local regulations, but cities and states learned from the Uber and Lyft explosion and have advocated for more local control to avoid the disruption of their streets and curbsides.

Revolutionary change is fun!
itstherightone
What happens when you're in the car and it stops because it just started raining. Call a live taxi?