I was on a cleantech editors roundtable yesterday, and one of the three things I postulated would be a hot topic in the remainder of the year was self-driving vehicles. Less than a day later, news broke that Waymo and GM’s Cruise have nearly received approval in the state of California to operate robotaxis — that is, to charge people to ride in autonomous vehicles.
With fresh permits in hand from the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), it’s just final approval from the California Public Utilities Commission that is necessary. Once these companies get that approval, they can put real, live robotaxis on the road. (Well, I’m not sure if we can call time “live,” but you know what I’m saying.)
Interestingly, not all permits are alike, and not all self-driving firms are on the same level. “Under the new authorization, Cruise vehicles can operate on public roads in designated parts of San Francisco between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., including in light rain or light fog, but cannot exceed 30 miles per hour, the department said. Waymo can operate its fleet in parts of San Francisco and San Mateo counties at or below 65 mph, including in the rain or light fog.” I know which passengers are going to get there first.
The two companies applied for these permits in May. Notably, one other difference aside from max speed is that Waymo’s application included having safety drivers/supervisors in the vehicles whereas Cruise’s application included no safety drivers/supervisors.
“Today’s approval from the California DMV makes Cruise the first autonomous ride-hail company to receive a driverless deployment permit in the state,” Rob Grant of Cruise told CNBC in an email “It brings us one step closer to achieving our mission to make transportation safer, better, and more affordable in cities with our fleet of all-electric, self-driving and shared vehicles.” I interviewed Rob Grant earlier this year about these topics and more. If you missed that podcast, check it out here:
For much more on these topics, see:
- Robotaxis Can Now Collect Cash Money From Passengers In California
- Semi-Autonomous & Autonomous Driving Systems In Cars Today & Tomorrow — From Fiat 500e To Tesla
- Riding In A Waymo Robotaxi Is Super Boring (And Exciting!)
- Waymo Enters San Francisco
- Waymo Boss Takes Shots At Tesla & FSD — Nothing New Here (Update: Elon Musk Responds)
- Autonomous Driving Tech, Regulations, & Auto Design — CleanTech Talk With Cruise’s Robert Grant
Of course, Tesla is taking a completely different route to robotaxi rollout. It isn’t yet getting permits to operate robotaxis in California. Instead, it’s on the verge of rolling out “FSD Beta” software to more Tesla drivers who paid $6,000–$10,000 for it (including me). The FSD Beta system allows the driver to closely watch the car drive itself from starting point to destination, stepping in and taking over when there’s an edge case that requires it. The idea is that once this rolls out to enough drivers and gets enough experience in the real world — and gets ongoing tweaks from Tesla’s Jedi software engineers — Tesla vehicles will become robotaxi capable on any road on Earth. Whether the Waymo/Cruise step-by-step, city-by-city rollout using different tech is the best way forward to develop a robotaxi empire or Tesla’s strategy is, well, that’s a topic of hot debate. Let’s see what happens in the coming year or three.