For months, the Driverless Commute has championed the same message – Autonomous Vehicles are Here. We believe that AVs aren’t decades away but that our autonomous future is right around the corner. Most weeks, we talk about recent developments or deployments, but today the autonomous industry took, quite possibly, its most significant step toward acceptance, thus far.
Yesterday, the California DMV issued deployment permits to Cruise and Waymo for a commercial autotaxi service. For the first time, the California DMV has given the green light to an autonomous vehicle company to charge passengers for rides. While both companies need to receive permission from the California Public Utilities Commission, these permits mark a significant milestone for AV acceptance in a state with a stiff regulatory culture.
Both Cruise and Waymo have been testing in California for years. While Cruise has tested in San Francisco since its beginning, Cruise only began testing in the complicated urban environment last month. According to the permit, Cruise can offer its commercial service on surface streets in designated parts of San Francisco between 10 pm and 6 am at a top speed of 30 mph. Due to a previous permit, Cruise is allowed to test its vehicles without safety drivers at all times but can only charge for driverless rides during the above hours.
Waymo must have a safety driver in the vehicle but is approved to operate on public roads in parts of San Francisco and San Mateo counties with a speed limit of 65 mph. While Waymo’s permit seems more permissive, Cruise is the “first and only autonomous ride-hail company to receive a driverless deployment permit in the state,” as Rob Grant, Cruise’s Senior VP of Government Affairs and Social Impact, put it. Waymo and Cruise join Nuro as the only companies to be issued a deployment permit by California DMV, although Nuro delivers goods instead of offering rides to the public.
Waymo and Cruise will both use electric vehicles for their fleets. Cruise uses the Chevy Bolt-based EV vehicles while Waymo uses Jaguar all-electric Jaguar I-PACE SUVs. Both companies will be well-positioned to meet the future AV requirements laid out by Governor Gavin Newsom for all autonomous vehicles starting in 2030. In September, Governor Newsom signed a bill that will require all light-duty autonomous vehicles to be zero-emission vehicles starting in 2030. Although most autonomous vehicles are electric vehicles, this new requirement codifies the connection and reinforces each sector’s mutual benefit from the other’s growth. As the national leader in AV testing, it’s possible we could see other states that are heavily involved in the AV space follow Governor Newsom’s lead.
While Waymo and Cruise continue to lead the autonomous vehicles industry, Toyota is building its autonomous capabilities. This week Toyota followed up on its previous announcement with Aurora by debuting the Toyota Sienna Autono-MaaS (S-AM) prototype. Toyota and Aurora hope to test this vehicle in Pittsburg, Dallas, and the Bay Area over the next six months, with plans to expand. Eventually, Toyota, Aurora, and Uber hope to launch a robotaxi service in 2024.
Woven Planet Holdings, a Toyota subsidiary, also made waves in the autonomous vehicle space this week by acquiring Renovo Motors. Renovo developed a heralded operating system that will assist Woven Planet’s efforts. The operating system, AWare OS, is designed to run apps in a car. This way, a rider could download and run software from a developer that focuses on mapping or autonomous driving. Renovo’s OS will help Woven Planet as it seeks to launch its own open vehicle development platform. This partnership continues to show the consolidation and maturation of the autonomous vehicle space.
With each week, autonomous vehicles prove that they are relevant. Autonomous vehicles are no longer a fringe technology but an emerging force in modern mobility. Autonomous vehicles are here, and they are here to stay.