Cruise is nearing its goal of commercializing a driverless taxi service.
The self-driving technology startup, whose main shareholder is General Motors, on Tuesday allowed members of the public to sign up for a ride in a driverless taxi service in San Francisco.
Offering the service in a city like San Francisco sets Cruise apart from many rivals, which are developing their self-driving systems in relatively quiet surroundings with wide streets. In contrast, Cruise's vehicles encounter around 3,200 cut-ins by other drivers, 3,000 double-parked cars, and hundreds of cyclists each and every week, according to the company.
Before you rush to sign up, Cruise said the public will get their first rides soon, but only a small number will initially be invited for a ride, at no cost. This number will increase as Cruise adds more vehicles to its fleet, and eventually the rides will have a cost attached.
Cruise vehicles without a safety engineer have been testing on California roads since late 2020, and Cruise was finally granted permission last summer by the California Public Utilities Commission to offer rides to the public on the state's roads.
Cruise's vehicles rank at Level 4 on the SAE scale of self-driving capability, as they are limited in the areas in which they can operate on their own. The final goal is Level 5, where a self-driving car is able to operate at the same level as a human driver. While Level 5 might be a decade or more away, companies are already offering commercial services involving Level 4 self-driving cars. Alphabet's Waymo One service has been up and running in parts of Phoenix, Arizona, for the past three years, and China's Baidu launched its Apollo Go service in Beijing last May.
Cruise Origin driverless vehicle
Cruise was originally due to start its own service in 2019 but missed the deadline. Nevertheless, the company is still on track to receive $1.35 billion of additional funding from SoftBank Vision Fund for having met a target of operating a driverless taxi service. The additional funding will be used to expand the service to more areas, one of which could be Dubai. Cruise last April secured a deal with Dubai to be the city’s exclusive provider for driverless taxis between 2023 and 2029.
Cruise's vehicles, of which there are roughly 200 on the road, are based on the Chevrolet Bolt EV. Eventually, Cruise will switch to using its own shuttle vehicle known as the Origin, the design of which was first shown in early 2020.
In addition to transporting passengers, Cruise is looking at delivery of goods. The company is working closely with retail giant Walmart, one of its investors, to trial a delivery service.