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San Francisco residents may notice something missing the next time they hail a taxi — no driver at the wheel. On June 2, 2022, Cruise, a division of General Motors (GM), was approved to charge for rides in its autonomous cars. Waymo, owned by Google's parent company, Alphabet, has been offering a similar service in Chandler, Arizona, since October 2020. However, Cruise is the first company allowed to operate commercial driverless cars in a major US city.
The first-of-its-kind permit comes with some restrictions. Cruise vehicles will be confined to transporting passengers in less congested areas of the city between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. The self-driving cars should not exceed a speed of 30 mph. They are also not allowed to operate in heavy rain or fog. The rules are meant to mitigate any injuries or accidents.
Cruise plans to launch the service gradually with a fleet of just 30 cars. The first robotaxis will be modified versions of GM's Chevrolet Bolt. However, the company is seeking approval to get its custom-built Cruise Origin on public roads. The autonomous electric vehicle has no steering wheel or pedals and can attain highway speeds. The car's roomy interior is fitted with seats that face each other.
Cruise's ability to obtain the commercial permit to operate is a big step forward. However, the company still has to convince passengers that its technology is safe. A 2021 survey by the American Automobile Association found that 54 percent of Americans are afraid to ride in a self-driving vehicle.
Regardless of whether the program is successful, its initiation is a significant milestone for Cruise. Waymo is still working on ensuring its self-driving vehicles are safe on busy street roads. Uber and Tesla have both announced plans to launch autonomous ride-hailing services.. Neither have succeeded thus far.
Resources: NPR.com, CBSnews.com, Getcruise.com., Techchrunch.com