Business Today

The robotic electric cabs will be restricted to less congested times

California regulators on Thursday gave the green light to a robotic taxi service to charge passengers for driverless rides in San Francisco, a first in a state where dozens of companies are trying to train vehicles to drive themselves on increasingly congested roads.

The California Public Utilities Commission has unanimously approved Cruise, a company controlled by automaker General Motors, to launch its self-driving taxi service. The regulators issued the permit despite safety concerns stemming from Cruise’s inability to pick up and drop off passengers at the curb in his autonomous taxis, forcing the vehicles to double-park in the lanes.

The ride-hailing service will initially consist of just 30 electric vehicles limited to transporting passengers in less congested areas of San Francisco from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Those restrictions are intended to minimize the chance that the robot taxis will cause property damage, injury or death if something goes wrong. It also allows regulators to assess how the technology works before expanding the service.

Cruise and Waymo, another pioneer of robotic cars, have already charged passengers for rides in parts of San Francisco in autonomous vehicles with a human backup driver to take control if something goes wrong with the technology.

But now Cruise has been cleared to charge for rides in vehicles that have no other people in them but the passengers — an ambition that a wide range of tech companies and traditional automakers have been pursuing for more than a decade.

The driverless vehicles have been hailed as a way to make taxi rides cheaper and reduce the number of traffic accidents and deaths caused by reckless human drivers