Cruise, the self-driving company owned by General Motors, has been approved to test its driverless cars on public roads in California. The company says it plans to test vehicles without a human safety driver behind the wheel before the end of 2020.
Cruise is the fifth to receive a driverless permit from the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, the others being Waymo, Nuro, Zoox, and AutoX. Currently, 60 companies have an active permit to test autonomous vehicles with a safety driver in California.
Dan Ammann, CEO of Cruise, said in a blog post that the company may not have been the first to receive a driverless permit, but it intends to be the first to test fully driverless cars in San Francisco.
“Before the end of the year, we’ll be sending cars out onto the streets of SF — without gasoline and without anyone at the wheel,” Ammann said. “Because safely removing the driver is the true benchmark of a self-driving car, and because burning fossil fuels is no way to build the future of transportation.” (Cruise’s fleet of vehicles is composed of 200 electric Chevy Bolts.)
A spokesperson couldn’t say whether a safety driver would remain in the vehicle’s passenger seat during testing, nor if Cruise would use chase vehicles to follow around its driverless cars. Those details, as well as the service area within Cruise’s San Francisco geofence (the invisible walls that dictate where the vehicle can operate), have yet to be announced, she said.
But the DMV’s permit carries its own restrictions. Cruise will be allowed to test “five autonomous vehicles without a driver behind the wheel on specified streets within San Francisco,” the agency said. “The vehicles are designed to operate on roads with posted speed limits not exceeding 30 miles per hour, during all times of the day and night, but will not test during heavy fog or heavy rain.”
A spokesperson for the DMV did not immediately respond to a question about the streets to which Cruise’s vehicles will be confined. Companies that receive these driverless permits have to provide evidence of insurance or a bond equal to $5 million and follow several other rules, such as training remote operators on the technology.
Cruise has yet to publicly demonstrate its fully driverless vehicles, unlike rival Waymo, which just last week announced it would be making its fully driverless ride-hail service in Phoenix, Arizona available to more customers.
Cruise also doesn’t allow non-employees to ride in its vehicles. The company had planned to launch a public self-driving taxi service in 2019 but failed to do so. Cruise has yet to set a new date for the start of its public robotaxi service.
The California permit came through before the federal government’s, which is weighing a separate application from Cruise to deploy a fleet of fully driverless Chevy Bolt vehicles without steering wheels or pedals. In 2019, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it would solicit public comments and conduct a review, but has yet to issue a final decision.
Last year, Cruise unveiled the Cruise Origin, a fully driverless prototype vehicle without a steering wheel, pedals, or any controls typically associated with human driving. The vehicle, which will go into production at GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck plant, is built to be shared by multiple passengers — though it remains to be seen how much appetite there is for shared vehicles in a post-COVID world.