Cruise, General Motor’s self-driving car division, just received approval from California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to test its autonomous automobiles in San Francisco. The company stated it would deploy its modified Chevrolet Bolts without safety drivers in the city before year’s end.
The firm is the fifth corporation authorized to test its driverless vehicles in the Golden State without a human operator.
Terms and Conditions Apply
Although Cruise’s permit represents a milestone for the company, its testing permit comes with certain limitations.
The subsidiary is only allowed to deploy five driver-free cars at one time and not in heavily rainy or foggy conditions. The firm’s autonomous vehicles must also stick to specified streets with 30 mile-per-hour speed limits. However, it can evaluate its next-generation cars any time it wants, day or night.
In a blog post, Cruise CEO Dan Ammann conceded his firm is not the first to secure an operator-less testing permit from the DMV. AutoX, Nuro, Waymo, and Zoox already have authorization to deploy their autonomous cars in California. However, he noted his company would be the first to use its vehicles without safety drivers in a major American city.
Ammann also admitted testing self-driving cars with human backup in such an environment will be challenging. However, the executive argued that replacing gas-guzzling cars operated by careless people with autonomous zero-emission vehicles justifies the hard work.
Playing Catch Up
Currently, it is hard to compare the world’s leading self-driving car companies. Since no provider has deployed a fully autonomous vehicle yet, the technology still has not been fully vetted. Even so, Cruise seems like it is trailing rather than leading the pack.
Established in 2013, the firm exited the Y-Combinator startup accelerator with a lot of potential. The company framed its mission as a cause; to develop self-driving automobiles that would make the world a safer and greener place. It also boldly predicted the future of passenger vehicles lay in shared rather than personal transports.
In 2016, GM decided to pay a rumored $500 million to $1 billion to acquire Cruise. The legacy corporation poured millions of dollars into the former startup to build out its operations. The carmaker also manufactured 130 Chevy Bolts for the firm to use in its testing operations.
In addition, GM’s seal of approval helped Cruise bring in more than $5 billion in equity funding.
Nevertheless, it has not hit any of the traditional self-driving car company benchmarks. The firm’s self-driving vehicles have not provided taxi service to nonemployees like rivals Waymo and Zoox. It also did not launch a public ride-hailing fleet by the end of 2019 as planned. Moreover, Cruise also denied multiple reports that its onboard autonomous operation systems lacked sophistication.
Because of its recent struggles, the firm seems like it has to catch up with some of its rivals. That said, its ability to secured a DMV permit to perform tests without human operators is a positive sign. Since the field is still wide open, Cruise could still crack the autonomy problem and change the world.