Robotaxis are now a reality in California.
On Thursday, state officials announced the launch of a fare-based ride-sharing company offering cars without a human driver at the wheel.
The robotic Chevy Bolt EVs will be rolled out over the next few weeks by self-driving vehicle maker Cruise. The San Francisco company, owned by General Motors, wouldn’t say how much.
With a permit from the California Public Utilities Commission, Cruise becomes the first commercial robotaxi venture in the state and the second in the United States. The first was launched in 2020 by Alphabet-owned Waymo in Chandler, Arizona.
Although driverless cars have been prowling the streets of San Francisco for years, to date they have either been staffed with human safety drivers or, if fully driverless, manned by company employees.
Prospective customers of the new service can download an app for the service, the company said, but may not be approved until the number of Cruise robotaxis deployed in San Francisco increases. Fares will be similar to those charged by ride-sharing companies, the company said.
The advent of driverless cars has taken much longer than the industry promised over the past decade, as startups heralded the future while raising venture capital funds and pushing for favorable regulations.
Driverless cars are still a long way from being rolled out on a large scale, and availability for individual buyers still seems a long way off.
Self-driving cars should not be able to drive anywhere in all weather conditions for many years, if ever. But robotaxi companies designed to operate in limited geographic areas — called geofences — are starting to pop up in the United States and China.
Argo, a robotaxi service largely owned by Ford, announced in May that it was transporting employees to sections of Miami and Austin, Texas, in fully self-driving cars, in anticipation of commercial service at a date the company has yet to reveal. Las Vegas is full of experimental robotaxis from several companies, though most still include a human safety driver behind the wheel.
Baidu and Pony.ai have launched fully driverless commercial robotaxi services in China.
Dozens of companies continue to experiment with driverless cars on public streets in California, with trial permits granted by the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
Since 2016, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been promising that Tesla robotaxis will be available within a year or two. The company has experimented with robotaxi technology on public roads using its customers as test pilots. The DMV, which has held other companies to a different standard, says it is reviewing its position on the matter.