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GM's Self-Driving Arm Cruise Granted Permit to Pick Up Passengers in its Robotaxis in California

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【Summary】Cruise LLC, the self-driving arm of General Motors, was granted a permit from the California Public Utilities Commission to carry passengers in its self-driving vehicles in the state. Cruise joins six other companies with a permit in California to carry passengers in self-driving vehicles, including Waymo, the company that spun out of Google’s self-driving car project.

FutureCar Staff    Feb 27, 2020 4:05 PM PT
GM's Self-Driving Arm Cruise Granted Permit to Pick Up Passengers in its Robotaxis in California
A self-driving Chevy Bolt EV built by General Motors and Cruise.

When General Motors acquired San Francisco-based self-driving startup Cruise in 2016 for over $1 billion, the automaker tasked the company to develop the self-driving technology for future GM vehicles. Over the past four years, the two companies have been busy working on self-driving technology and a commercial robotaxi service using a fleet of driverless self-driving Chevy Bolt EVs outfitted with technology developed by Cruise.

Now Cruise is one step closer to achieving its goal. The company was granted a permit from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPCU) to carry passengers in its self-driving vehicles. Cruise joins six other companies with a permit in California to carry passengers, including Waymo, the company that spun out of Google's self-driving car project.

Now Cruise can pick up passengers, becoming the first major automaker issued the permit in California. For now, there still will be a safety driver behind the wheel ready to take over for any unexpected situations, but the long-term goal is to eventually remove the safety driver altogether.

"As we move closer to launch we want the opportunity to put top candidates, partners and media into the vehicles and this pilot allows us to do that," Cruise said in a statement.

The permit is part of the state's new Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service pilot and requires Cruise to provide data and reports to the CPUC for any incidents as well as the number of passenger miles traveled and passenger safety protocols.

Cruise has been operating a fleet of autonomous Chevy Bolt EVs in San Francisco for the past three years to gather data and map the city for its planned robotaxi service. While the cars are capable of self-driving on their own, human operators sit behind the wheel to monitor them, ready to take over if something unexpected happens, such as a blocked lane ahead. 

Eventually, Cruise and GM plan to launch an autonomous ride-hailing service, but before that happens they need to test their technology in the real world, which is what the permit will allow Cruise to do.

GM is also seeking to deploy a version of the Bolt EV without a steering wheel or pedals, since the vehicle is intended to be part of the robotaxi service and would drive autonomously. 

However, federal regulations require that every vehicle registered in the U.S. have mirrors, a steering wheel, seat belts, traction control, pedals and other equipment, which GM argues it doesn't need since there will be no driver. Last year, GM petitioned the federal government for an exemption for the Bolt without human controls, but that decision is still pending.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) approved a regulatory exemption for California autonomous delivery startup Nuro to deploy its compact autonomous delivery vehicles.

Since Nuro's delivery vehicles are not designed to carry people, they don't require the systems mandated by the DOT for passenger vehicles, such as seat belts, air bags, ABS brakes, mirrors and human driver controls.

Last month in San Francisco, Cruise unveiled its Origin autonomous shuttle that seats six and its intended for a commercial mobility service. The boxy vehicle has no driver controls since its designed to be fully-autonomous. It was built in a collaboration between Honda, GM and Cruise, with GM supplying the electric powertrain.

Cruise is further refining self-driving technology using its own employees. Since 2017, a number of Cruise employees in San Francisco have had access to the "Cruise Anywhere" app and can summon a ride to work or home in a self-driving Bolt—with a safety driver behind the wheel.                                                                                                                            

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