GM Cruise given nod to test fully driverless cars in San Francisco

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General Motors’ autonomous vehicle unit, Cruise, will start testing fully driverless cars on the streets of San Francisco before the end of 2020.

Cruise CEO Dan Ammann made the announcement in a video posted on Thursday, October 15.

While Cruise has been testing its driverless technology on the streets of several U.S. cities for the last four years or so, it’s always had to have a safety driver behind the wheel in case something goes wrong.

But a new permit, issued this week by California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), allows Cruise to send its cars out without anyone behind the wheel.

There are, however, various conditions attached to the permit. For example, Cruise’s autonomous vehicles will have to keep to specific San Francisco streets, travel at speeds of no more than 30 mph, and stay off the road in thick fog or heavy rain.

In a blog post offering more details about this week’s development, Ammann weaved in concerns about the climate and road safety, saying how electric, autonomous vehicles have the potential to transform polluted, busy, and dangerous city streets for the better.

“In the months ahead, if you happen to see any of our cars out on the road, go ahead and wave,” Ammann wrote in his post. “There might not be anyone inside, but they see you too, and appreciate your support as they drive change for us all.”

General Motor’s Cruise unit isn’t the first to be issued a permit by California’s DMV to test unmanned vehicles — others include Waymo, Zoox, and Nuro — but it could become the first to put them on a San Francisco street. At a wider level, more than 50 companies currently have permits to test driverless cars on California roads, but the vast majority require the presence of a safety driver.

In Arizona, meanwhile, Alphabet-owned Waymo is already testing fully driverless vehicles in a part of Phoenix, and has plans to expand the program soon.

Regulatory barriers suggest that before personal ownership of self-driving cars becomes widespread, we’re more likely to see automakers rolling out ridesharing services using driverless cars under strict guidelines and in tightly controlled areas.

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