You can take a self-driving car tour in San Francisco this month
Last Thursday, General Motors obtained the first license to use driverless cars, not only for testing, but also as taxis. GM’s Cruise driverless car service will use 30 self-driving Chevy Bolt EVs to provide rides between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., when city streets are less crowded.
The California Public Utilities Commission approved the permit with some restrictions. Cars are limited to less than 30 mph and won’t run in rain or heavy fog (yes, in San Francisco). They are also limited to low traffic parts of town.
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However, they will be allowed to operate without a human backup in the driver’s seat and charge for their services.
The service works with an app, which works much like Uber or Lyft on the client side.
That doesn’t mean self-driving cars are ready
The first legal robotaxis are a milestone on the way to self-driving cars. But the permit does not mean that your next car will ask you where to go and take you there.
Several car manufacturers sell driver assistance systems that can keep up with highway traffic even when the road is twisty. Ford’s BlueCruise, GM’s Super Cruise and Tesla’s Full Self-Driving systems can handle these tasks on at least some highways. Systems require a human ready to take over at all times.
Tesla allows drivers to use its system on surface streets, not just highways. But the company says this process is a form of “beta testing” and has told state regulators that, despite its name, Full Self-Driving will not be an autonomous driving system.
GM says a planned update, Ultra Cruise, will be able to run off the highway. Volvo and Mercedes have also announced plans to unveil more advanced hands-free systems by the end of the year. But both companies’ plans depend on regulatory approvals that may not arrive in 2022.