General Motors driverless robotaxi, Cruise, gets permit to charge for rides


General Motors robotaxi startup, Cruise, becomes the first company to operate a commercial, driverless ridehail service in a major US city.

The company started in 2013 but it wasn’t until February this year that they started allowing members of the public to ride in one of its driverless taxis on the streets of San Francisco. This whole time, the trips were free since they were part of their testing phase. 

California Public Utilities Commission granted Cruise permission to start charging a fare for its rides. This major milestone will enable more customers to ride on the Chevrolet Bolt EVs with Cruise technology which make them rank on Level 4 on the SAE scale of self-driving capability but on limited areas and set of conditions.

The conditions only allow Cruise to operate 52 driverless robotaxis in the city, but only between 10 pm and 6 am when the streets are mostly empty. The vehicles are limited to 30 mph and cover only certain parts of the city, skipping busy areas. 

Eventually, when the self driving capability reaches Level 5, such robotaxis will be available in more areas around the world and will operate round the clock. Level 5 autonomy is the ultimate tier on the scale, it does not require any human driving intervention at all.

In future, Cruise will switch to its own shuttle vehicle known as the Origin instead of the modified Chevy Bolt EV they are currently using. The Origin is going to be a Level 5 autonomy vehicle with no steering wheel and no pedals.

The company also plans on delivery of goods thanks to a partnership with Walmart, the retail giant is part of Cruise investors. 

This isn’t the first startup to made advances in robotaxi services, Google’s Waymo One service has been running in parts of Phoenix, Arizona, for the past three years, and China’s Baidu launched its Apollo Go service in Beijing last year.