Cruise offers free robotaxi trips in San Francisco without backup drivers

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Self-driving vehicle service Cruise is offering free public robotaxi trips in San Francisco without backup drivers.

The free trips will use Cruise’s fleet of retrofitted Chevrolet Bolt vehicles that includes Poppy and Tostada. These vehicles are ‘Level 4’ meaning they’re fully driverless and don’t require a backup driver but still feature a steering wheel, pedals, mirrors and everything required for manual control.

Cruise was granted approval to test its driverless vehicles on streets in San Francisco on 15 October 2020. Private trials without backup drivers began in December 2020. Following successful tests, Cruise now believes it’s ready to offer public rides.

Of course, there are some caveats to the free rides.

The service will only run from 11pm-5am and in the city’s northwest quadrant—including Nob Hill, the Fillmore, the Panhandle, the Sunset, and the Richmond.

Cruise has not yet been approved to charge for rides so – while it should offer some good publicity (short of any unforeseen issues) – the company’s hands are currently tied.

The company requested permission from the California Public Utilities Commission to charge for rides in November, so the free trips probably won’t be around for too long.

A waitlist is currently in place for the rides but Cruise promises it will select names in “weeks not months”.

Cruise debuted its Origin purpose-built self-driving vehicle in January 2020. Origin is a ‘Level 5’ autonomous vehicle—meaning that it doesn’t even have a steering wheel.

The company has begun assembling 100 pre-production Origin vehicles for validation testing but mass production isn’t expected until 2023.

Cruise rival Waymo – the self-driving unit of Google parent company Alphabet – has also been granted permission to offer rides without a backup driver. However, Cruise has the first-mover advantage with Waymo yet to give public rides.

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