Silicon Valley autonomous driving startup Zoox applied for, and has been the first company approved for, autonomous driving on regular streets with regular people as passengers in the State of California. The company is not allowed to charge for the rides, and the vehicle must still have a technician in the “driver’s seat” ready to take over in an emergency case, according to a report by Automotive News.
While the cars Zoox will be using won’t look like the “Vaporware Horseshit 1" test car shown in the image above, and will instead be a traditional mass-market car with the technology added on, this marks the first time that California has allowed regular folks to ride in self-driving cars. Until now, passengers have been limited to employees in the self-driving sector, and occasionally, as in the case of Zoox, family members.
“This is a really, really significant milestone as we head towards commercial launch, which we have stated is toward the end of 2020,” Zoox’s Bert Kaufman, head of corporate and regulatory affairs, told Automotive News.
The intent of putting Zoox-driven cars on public streets with public passengers is kind of the same reason video games or apps get beta testing. Zoox hopes that with more cars on the roads providing service, it will get more user input and data to work with. The company is working on getting the software to give smoother inputs.
Zoox is one of 62 companies with permits to test autonomous driving technology on public roads in California, says Automotive News. Those other 61 companies, including Alphabet-owned Waymo, are likely quite jealous of Zoox’s newfound, ahem, autonomy. Waymo currently offers public autonomous rides in Arizona, where they are allowed to charge customers, but must also retain a “driver” in the action seat. In California, Waymo has recently been given a permit to test autonomous cars without a backup driver, but obviously not including riders.
While we are still a long way away from being able to rely on ride sharing apps to hail an autonomous car to give us a ride with no other driver input, this beta-style test is a step on that path. Still a very early step.