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GM’s cruise wins California’s first license to carry paying passengers in driverless cars

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GM.N Cruise from General Motors Co. became the first company to obtain a toll permit for autonomous car travel in San Francisco on Thursday, after overcoming the objections of city officials.

Self-driving test cars with human safety drivers have become a constant sight in San Francisco, and those without a driver are becoming more common. Turning them into a start-up business in a major US city will mark a milestone in the long and delayed journey of driverless taxi service.

The permit was Cruise’s last hurdle in California. Cruise said it would launch paid services in the next two weeks using up to 30 driverless Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicles.

The California Public Utilities Commission approved the cruise permit Thursday night with a 4-0 vote.

Commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen said during the meeting that the panel had “taken a careful, progressive approach” to regulating autonomous vehicles.

“This resolution marks another important step in this effort,” he said. “It will allow our staff to continue to gather very important data that will support the development of future phases.”

Cars will be limited to a maximum speed of 30 miles per hour, a geographic area that avoids the city center and 22:00 to 6:00. It will not be allowed on highways or in times of heavy fog, rain or smoke.

Disability and business groups have expressed support, and state commission staff said Cruise’s proposal reasonably protects passenger safety.

Concerned that the unusual behavior of the cars could lead to personal injury, San Francisco firefighters, police and transit officials wanted state regulators to impose restrictions before allowing Cruise to enter the transportation business. They recommended the need for additional approval to add more cars and a new working group of state and local officials.

Local officials say a confusing Cruise AV briefly blocked a San Francisco fire truck in April, which was on its way to a three-alarm fire, and a few days earlier, a driverless Cruise car was stopped by police. he seemed to leave before the officer was finished. Cruise said his cars made safe decisions.

While GOOGL.O Waymo from rival Alphabet Inc paid for trips to the suburbs of Phoenix in 2018, the design proposed by Cruise in its hometown of San Francisco, a densely populated, hilly and unpredictable area, is considered by technology experts the most great challenge.

Waymo has been offering driverless trips to San Francisco since March, and Cruise has been offering free test trips to the public until late February.

But there is also a long-standing problem that self-driving cars cannot always correctly predict how people will react to changing events, including car actions. Cruise even named the issue “couples issue,” a former employee said.

A decade after California first allowed public testing of self-driving vehicles, smooth, road-compliant travel is the norm, but surprises persist.

In a public presentation last year, Cruise senior director Brandon Basso described the “kinematic uncertainty” as a challenge facing self-driving cars in predicting people’s actions on the road and deciding, for example, when to give up.

Cruise said its vehicles understand complex social dynamics and protect themselves against uncertainty by taking safe action.

Even San Francisco officials who challenged the license said that despite “visible exceptions, the driverless Cruise AV seems to generally function as a cautious and compliant defensive driver.”

Although self-driving cars can adapt to nearby violations, “human error or behavior, such as a traffic violation that differs from probable behavior patterns, is a contributing factor to a disproportionate number of collisions.” Waymo told Reuters in a statement.

Cruise does not disclose what three former employees say are two key internal safety statistics: how often its cars face new situations or experience what it calls “critical safety incidents”, a combination of accidents and near misses.

Reuters reports that Cruise, with its computers under control, suffered 34 accidents involving personal injury or damage of more than $ 1,000 during nearly 3 million miles of driving over a four-year period ending in May. 2021.

The documents, which Cruise canceled in February in response to a request from Reuters, show his attempts to avoid repeated collisions.

For 28 of the cases, Cruise sought technological remedies, which were often linked to improved predictions about what people would do. He also relaxed some rules: including a response to a 2019 crash that allowed the car to “adjust to strict compliance with all marked lanes” so that it could move around parked trucks or slow-moving cyclists.

In January, Waymo asked for a court decision to keep its comparable data confidential, citing trade secrets. The state did not oppose the request, and Waymo’s records remain in writing.

Some accidents have led to lawsuits. A courier on a bicycle and a motorcyclist sued Cruise, and Waymo solved a car accident in 2016.

Cruise said the car was not driving alone during the scooter incident and is fighting the case.

Cyclist Christopher McCleary, who settled his case last month, said he suffered continuous injuries from the impact with a Cruise car that he said he stopped unexpectedly in San Francisco in 2018 and questions the experience of driverless cars in public.

“Unfortunately,” he said via email, “I feel like Cruise has ‘learned’ from hitting me, and this is actually a sacrifice I had to make to allow Cruise to become better. “In predicting situations.”

(Reporting by Dave in Oakland, California. Additional reporting by Hyunjoo Jin in San Francisco and Tina Bellon in Austin, Tex. Editing by Peter Henderson, Matthew Lewis and Lincoln Feast

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