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Waymo & GM's Autonomous Driving Unit Cruise Granted Permits to Deploy Commercial Self-Driving Vehicles in the San Francisco Bay Area

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【Summary】Alphabet’s self-driving division Waymo, along with Cruise, the autonomous driving unit of automaker General Motors, have each been issued permits by California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to deploy commercial self-driving vehicles carrying paying customers. The permits pave the way for a more broader deployment of autonomous ride-hailing services in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Eric Walz    Sep 30, 2021 4:30 PM PT
Waymo & GM's Autonomous Driving Unit Cruise Granted Permits to Deploy Commercial Self-Driving Vehicles in the San Francisco Bay Area

Alphabet's self-driving division Waymo, along with Cruise LLC, the autonomous driving unit of automaker General Motors, have each been issued permits by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to deploy commercial self-driving vehicles carrying paying customers.

The permits pave the way for a more broader deployment of autonomous ride-hailing services in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Unlike the California DMV autonomous testing permit, which doesn't allow companies to carry passengers, the new deployment permit allows companies to make its autonomous technology commercially available outside of a testing program. 

Waymo plans to launch an autonomous ride-hailing service called Waymo One using a fleet of self-driving vehicles. While GM's unit Cruise is planning to launch a competing ride-hailing service using a fleet of Chevy Bolt EVs outfitted by Cruise with hardware and sensors for autonomous driving.

Waymo One and its similar to how Uber, Lyft and other providers operate. Waymo has a smartphone app where customers can summon one of its self-driving vehicles. Once seated and buckled up, riders press the trip start button to begin their trip. 

A monitor in the backseat of each Waymo vehicle shows the vehicle's perception systems in real time and riders get an expanded look at what the self-driving vehicle "sees" as it navigates autonomously in the city.

Waymo, which spun out of Google's self-driving car project, has long been considered the leader in the development of self-driving technology. Backed by the deep pockets of parent company Google, the company has been working on self-driving cars since 2009.

Over the past decade Waymo's fleet of self-driving vehicles has traveled over 20 million miles on public roads, and billions of more miles in computer simulation as it continuously improves its hardware and self-driving software. Waymo is also working on self-driving Class-8 trucks and has plans to launch an autonomous freight delivery business called Waymo Via. 

Commercial passenger service in autonomous vehicles in California also requires authorization from the California Public Utilities Commission, which is tasked with regulatory oversight of the nascent industry.

The deployment authorization grants Cruise permission to use a fleet of light-duty autonomous vehicles for commercial services on paved streets within designated parts of San Francisco. 

Cruise's self-driving vehicles are approved to operate on public roads between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. However the vehicles are limited to a maximum speed limit of 30 miles per hour and can operate in light rain and light fog, the latter of which is common in San Francisco.

San Francisco's dense fog and hilly terrain also makes the city a challenging environment to operate self-driving vehicles, which is one of the reasons that the two companies have set up shop in the city. Both Waymo and Cruise have extensively mapped the city, so its autonomous vehicles can operate safely.

Cruise has had state authority to test autonomous vehicles on public roads with a safety driver since 2015. In 2016, GM invested around $1 billion for a majority stake in Cruise when it was a relatively unknown San Francisco startup working on autonomous driving. 

Part of GM's investment was to jumpstart its own work on self-driving cars. Cruise has held a permit to test autonomous vehicles without a driver since Oct 2020.

Waymo is authorized to deploy its light-duty autonomous vehicles for commercial services within parts of San Francisco and San Mateo counties. The vehicles are approved to operate on public roads with a speed limit of no more than 65 mph and can also operate in rain and light fog. 

Waymo has been granted a permit to test its autonomous vehicles on public roads with a safety driver since 2014. The company received a fully-driverless testing permit in October 2018.

The DMV has now approved three deployment permits which regulate autonomous vehicles operating on public roads.

Under California state law established in 2012, the DMV is required to adopt regulations covering both the testing and public use of autonomous vehicles on roadways in the state. 

The regulations to allow for the deployment of autonomous vehicles were adopted and took effect on April 2, 2018. Regulations allowing for light-duty autonomous delivery vehicles weighing less than 10,001 pounds were approved on Dec 16, 2019, the DMV said.

In order to receive a deployment permit, Both Waymo and Cruise must certify they meet a number of key safety, insurance and vehicle registration requirements. They include identifying the operational design domain of the vehicles, as well as describing any commonly occurring conditions in which the vehicles would not be able to operate safely.

Companies must also verify that the technology is capable of detecting and responding to roadway situations in compliance with the California Vehicle Code and be able to describe how the vehicle meets the definition of an SAE Level 3, 4 or 5 autonomous technology.

In addition, companies weighing to test driverless vehicles must certify that the manufacturer has conducted test and validation methods and is satisfied that the autonomous vehicles are safe for deployment.

The deployed vehicles must meet federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards or have an exemption from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and have insurance or bond on each vehicle equal to $5 million.

Finally, companies are required to develop a "Law Enforcement Interaction Plan'' that provides information to law enforcement or first responders on how to interact with the autonomous vehicles.

Waymo was approved to start picking up passengers in its driverless vehicles for the first time in August, after extensively testing using safety drivers behind the wheel.

Waymo's first passengers are part of the company's "Trusted Tester Program", which is a research-focused pilot that invites residents of San Francisco to participate and help Waymo shape the future of fully autonomous ride-hailing. Waymo takes valuable feedback from its trusted testers to continuously improve its service. 

Prior to opening Waymo One to its trusted testers, the company was picking up employees in the city.

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