Driverless racing heats up with cruise cleared to run empty in San Francisco

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Cruise, which is majority owned by General Motors Co and has Honda Motor Co Ltd and SoftBank Group as investors, tested 180 self-driving cars in San Francisco with a safety driver behind the wheel.



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Cruise is the fifth company to receive the driverless license in California

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The race for autonomous driverless vehicles is intensifying, and on Thursday Cruise became the first to receive a license to test cars with no one inside on the streets of San Francisco from the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Cruise, which is majority owned by General Motors Co and has Honda Motor Co Ltd and SoftBank Group as investors, tested 180 self-driving cars in San Francisco with a safety driver behind the wheel, and the license allows five of those cars to roam empty. . But don’t expect robo-taxis yet.

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“So that’s a step or two beyond what we will initially do with this permit,” said Dan Ammann, Managing Director of Cruise. “It’s not too far down the road,” he said, but declined to share a schedule.

In a blog post, he added, “We are not the first company to receive this permit, but we will be the first to use it on the streets of a major American city.”

This will be an important step for Cruise to bill customers. For any of the companies to start making money in California, a separate license is needed, state officials said.

As part of SoftBank’s investment, SoftBank is obligated to purchase additional shares of Cruise for $ 1.35 billion when Cruise is ready for commercial deployment.

“It’s a great incentive to get into commercial deployment,” Ammann said, adding that Cruise was in a “very solid” financial position after raising more than $ 7 billion. Cruise recorded a loss of $ 1 billion in 2019, according to a GM filing.

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Cruise is the fifth company to receive the driverless license in California. Alphabet’s Waymo was the first in late 2018 to receive it for around three dozen test vehicles with speeds of up to 65 miles per hour. This year, SoftBank-backed Nuro, whose vehicle has no steering wheel and pedals, was also approved and delivered medical supplies to temporary COVID-19 hospitals.

Chinese startup AutoX and Amazon.com Inc.’s Zoox have also been licensed in recent months. The previous four permits are for cities in Silicon Valley which are easier to navigate. Under his license, cruise cars can travel anywhere on the streets of San Francisco at a maximum speed of 30 miles per hour and can travel day or night.

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In Arizona, which is more open to self-driving, self-driving car testing, Waymo has already been billing a select group of customers since summer 2019 for empty vans that stop and haul them. This program – temporarily suspended for the pandemic – was relaunched in October and is expected to be open to the general public soon.

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To prepare for the future of its robotaxi, Cruise is working on improving its tele-assistance app that employees use for free to get around the city, Ammann said. That future would likely eventually include the Cruise Origin, an electric vehicle without a steering wheel or pedals unveiled in January, but it would require approval from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

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