Cruise, the self-driving company backed by General Motors and Honda, announced a public waitlist for its robotaxi service in San Francisco. It’s a significant step for the company that has previously been beset by delays in its quest to get paying customers into its autonomous ride-hailing vehicles.
The rides will be free to start out, as Cruise has yet to be approved to accept paid rides. The company, which has previously only allowed employees to ride in its autonomous vehicles, says it has tested the waters with a few of its first non-employee customers, including GM CEO Mary Barra, as well as a few non-employees.
According to Cruise:
We’re also opening a public waitlist at www.getcruise.com for when we’re ready to offer even more rides to San Franciscans. We’re calling this the Cruise Rider Community program and people who are nominated by employees or sign up on the waitlist will be incorporated into the pipeline to be among our first public riders.
In some ways, it’s similar to how Waymo started out in Arizona with the launch of an “early rider” program that then evolved into Waymo One, the Alphabet company’s first commercial service. A spokesperson for Cruise did not immediately respond to a question about whether these initial passengers will be required to sign non-disclosure agreements (as Waymo’s did) in order to be approved.
California is ground zero for AV testing in the US, with over 60 companies licensed to operate autonomous vehicles for testing purposes in the state. A handful of companies hold permits to test fully driverless vehicles, without safety drivers behind the steering wheel. And an even smaller number have been approved to pick up and drop off passengers as part of a commercial pilot service.
Cruise has received permits from the California Department of Motor Vehicles to test driverless vehicles on public roads and to carry members of the public in those vehicles, but has yet to receive a permit with the California Public Utilities Commission to charge for those rides.
For now, Cruise’s driverless vehicles are only approved to operate with paid customers at night, between 10PM and 6AM, at a maximum speed of 30mph and can even drive in “light rain and fog.” The company can test with or without unpaid passengers in both driverless and with drivers 24/7.
The company had planned to launch a commercial robotaxi service in San Francisco in 2019 but failed to do so, and it has yet to publicly commit to a new date — though it has strongly implied that it will be in 2022.
The news of Cruise’s public demonstrations of its driverless vehicles has triggered the remaining $1.35 billion from SoftBank, as part of a $2.25 billion investment commitment first announced in 2018. “When SoftBank first invested in Cruise in 2018, they made an initial $900 million investment and committed to investing this additional $1.35 billion when Cruise is ready for commercial deployment, which we have now demonstrated,” Cruise said.
Last month, Barra forced out Cruise CEO Dan Ammann over disagreements on the direction of the company. According to Bloomberg, Barra was pushing to use Cruise’s technology to power luxury self-driving Cadillacs that could be sold to customers. Ammann was reportedly open to the idea but wanted to prioritize Cruise’s robotaxi service.
Later this year, GM is planning to start production of the Cruise Origin, a purpose-built autonomous shuttle without traditional controls like a steering wheel and pedals. GM had previously planned to produce a version of its electric Chevy Bolt without steering wheels and pedals but has since put that plan on hold while it prioritizes the Origin.