This past Friday, a major step in autonomous cars was reached. Cruise, the self-driving car startup that impressed GM so much they bought a major stake in them, gained approval from the California Public Utilities Commission to operate with passengers on public roads, Motor Authority reports.
This is a major step. Out of all of the driverless car startups — Waymo, Ouster, Voyage, etc — Cruise is, so far, the only company that has been approved to operate with passengers on public roads. It’s not the first driverless car company to get approval to test on public roads of course. There are over 60 currently in the state testing. But it is the first to be able to have vehicles carry passengers.
Cruise debuted their driverless van/bus thing called the Origin at the beginning of 2020. Back then, it was said to be production and delivery ready. But we haven’t seen or heard anything about it since then. Some may have expected to see Origin being the thing tested on roads, but since the company is backed by GM it’s been using Chevy Bolts.
The approval for them came rather quickly. The company just started testing in San Fransisco in December. Cruise vehicles are currently at Level 4 autonomy, which means that there is still a driver to take control if need be, but that driver can look away or focus on something else (maybe even a nap) for a longer period of time. At this level, the car can take over if the driver fails to and safely stop.
While the milestone of testing with passengers is major, there is an equally major caveat with all this. Cruise can only have passengers ride in the vehicles for free. They can’t charge for rides, yet. Also, the cars are limited on where they can operate and the company has to submit a report before the rides begin detailing how it plans to keep passengers safe.