GM’s Cruise wins first California license to carry paying passengers in driverless cars

OAKLAND, Calif., June 2 (Reuters) – General Motors Co (GM.N) Cruise on Thursday became the first company to obtain a permit to charge for self-driving car rides in San Francisco, after overcoming objections from city officials .

Self-driving test cars with human safety drivers have become a constant sight in San Francisco, and completely driverless cars are also becoming more common. Turning them into a fledgling business in a major US city will mark an important milestone in the long and delayed journey to driverless taxi service.

Licensing was Cruise’s last hurdle in California. Cruise said it will launch paid services in the coming weeks using up to 30 driverless Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicles.

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The California Public Utilities Commission approved Cruise’s permit Thursday night in a 4-0 vote.

Commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen told the meeting that the panel had “taken a cautious and phased approach” to regulating self-driving vehicles.

“This resolution marks another important step in that effort,” he said. “This will allow our staff to continue to collect very important data that will support the development of future phases.”

Cars will be limited to a maximum speed of 30 miles per hour (48 km per hour), a geographic zone that avoids the city center and the hours of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. They will not be allowed on highways or during periods of heavy fog or precipitation. or smoke.

Disability and business groups had expressed support, and state commission staff said Cruise’s proposal reasonably protected passenger safety.

Citing concerns that unusual car behavior could lead to bodily harm, San Francisco fire, police and transit officials wanted state regulators to impose restrictions before allowing Cruise to ride. throw in transport. They recommended requiring new approval to add more cars and a new task force made up of state and local officials. Read more

Local officials said a confused Cruise AV briefly blocked a San Francisco fire truck in April that was en route to a three-alarm blaze, and a few days earlier a driverless cruiser stopped by police seemed to leave before the agent finished. Cruise said his cars make safe decisions.

While rival Alphabet Inc’s Waymo (GOOGL.O) has been charging for rides in suburban Phoenix since 2018, Cruise’s proposed rollout in his hometown of San Francisco, a more densely populated, hilly and unpredictable area, is being considered. by tech experts as the biggest challenge.

Waymo has been offering its employees driverless rides in San Francisco since March, and Cruise has been offering free late-night test rides to the public since February.

But there’s also a long-standing problem that self-driving cars can’t always correctly predict how humans will react to changing events, including the actions of the car. Cruise even gave the problem a name, the “couples problem,” a former employee said.

ACCIDENTS AND NEAR-ACCIDENTS

A decade since California first allowed public testing of autonomous vehicles, smooth rides that follow traffic rules are the norm, but the surprises persist. Read more

In a public presentation last year, Cruise’s senior manager Brandon Basso described “kinematic uncertainty,” a challenge self-driving cars face in predicting the actions of humans on the road and deciding, for example, when to give in.

Cruise said his vehicles understand complex social dynamics and protect against uncertainty by taking safe steps.

Even San Francisco officials who challenged the permit said that despite “notable exceptions, the driverless Cruise AV generally appears to operate as a cautious and docile defensive driver.”

Although self-driving cars can adapt to nearby rule breakers, “human error or behavior such as a violation of the rules of the road that deviates from likely behavior patterns is a factor in a disproportionate number of collisions,” Waymo told Reuters in a statement.

Cruise isn’t disclosing what three former employees say are two key safety stats internally: how often its cars encounter new situations or experience what they call “critical safety incidents,” a combination of accidents and near misses.

Public records seen by Reuters show Cruise, with his computers under control, suffered 34 crashes involving bodily injury or more than $1,000 in damage over nearly 3 million miles of driving over a four-year period. ending in May 2021.

The documents, which Cruise did not redact in February in response to a Reuters request, show his attempts to avoid repeated collisions.

For 28 of the cases, Cruise sought technological solutions, which were often tied to improving predictions of what humans will do. It also relaxed some rules: including a response to a 2019 crash that allows the car to “adjust strict adherence to all marked lanes”, so it can move around parked trucks or cyclists slow.

Waymo in January sought a court order to keep its comparable data confidential, calling it trade secrets. The state did not object to the request and Waymo’s records remain redacted.

Some accidents have resulted in lawsuits. A bike courier and scooter driver sued Cruise, and Waymo settled a car accident in 2016.

Cruise said the car was not self-driving during the scooter incident and is fighting the case.

Cyclist Christopher McCleary, who settled his lawsuit last month, said he suffered lingering injuries after crashing into a cruiser car he said unexpectedly stopped in San Francisco in 2018, and he questions the experimentation of driverless cars in public.

“Unfortunately,” he said via email, “I feel like Cruise ‘learned’ by hitting me and it was actually a sacrifice I had to make to allow Cruise to become “better” at predicting situations.”

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Reporting by Paresh Dave in Oakland, California. Additional reporting by Hyunjoo Jin in San Francisco and Tina Bellon in Austin, Texas. Editing by Peter Henderson, Matthew Lewis and Lincoln Feast

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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