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GM-backed cruise is searching for last approval for robotic taxis in San Francisco

Cruise Origin driverless shuttle

cruise

General Motors-backed Cruise is seeking final approval from California to begin commercializing its robot taxi fleet in San Francisco.

The self-driving car start-up announced Friday that it has filed for approval with the California Public Utilities Commission to allow autonomous vehicles to be used. It is the last of six permits required by the CPCU and California DMV to charge the public for travel.

It is unclear how long the review and approval process will take. Cruise is the first to apply for approval. Cruise CEO Dan Ammann recently said the company expects to begin commercialization as early as next year, pending regulatory approval.

If approved, Cruise could be the first to operate a taxi fleet without human drivers. Alphabet-backed Waymo has also received approval from the California DMV to charge robot taxi rides, but their approval still requires a “safety driver” in the vehicle in the event of a problem.

The latest permit allows Cruise vehicles to operate on public roads in certain parts of San Francisco between 10:00 PM and 6:00 AM, even in light rain or fog. However, according to the DMV, they must not exceed 30 miles per hour.

Commercializing autonomous vehicles has been far more difficult than many predicted a few years ago, but Waymo and Cruise are considered two of the frontrunners.

Cruise was scheduled to launch a public transportation service in San Francisco in 2019. The company delayed those plans this year to conduct further testing and obtain necessary regulatory approvals.

General Motors Cruise test vehicles

Source: General Motors

Cruise received DMV approval for self-driving vehicles for the first time in June 2015. Since then, the company has slowly expanded test sites and grown its fleet to hundreds of autonomous vehicles, while also obtaining additional permits.

Cruise’s current fleet of vehicles includes Chevrolet Bolt EVs that are retrofitted with self-driving vehicle software and additional technologies such as cameras, radar and lidar that enable vehicles to “see” their surroundings.

The next fleet of vehicles is expected to consist of the Cruise Origin, a rectangular shuttle-like vehicle designed exclusively as an autonomous vehicle. Ammann said earlier this year that GM is expected to begin production of the Origin for Cruise in early 2023.

GM acquired Cruise in 2016. Since then, it has attracted investors such as Honda Motor, Softbank Vision Fund and, more recently, Walmart and Microsoft.

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