Alphabet Inc. Waymo and rival Cruise ship have applied for the necessary permits to begin charging for travel and delivery with autonomous vehicles in San Francisco, according to state documents reviewed by Reuters, which lay the groundwork for the biggest tests of its technology in a dense urban environment .
Neither company revealed when they intend to launch services. But they detailed contrasting deployment plans, with Waymo starting with “driver operations” and Cruise hoping to deploy human-free vehicles behind the wheel.
According to the documents, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has not yet decided on previously unreported applications from Waymo on Jan. 19 and Cruise on March 29. The agency said it is still reviewing applications.
Efforts come at a turning point for Waymo, who Google launched more than a decade ago. Waymo has provided paid and driverless trips acclaimed through its application in the suburb of Phoenix, in Chandler, since 2019. But it has failed to expand Arizona operations as quickly as analysts once imagined.
Its longtime CEO John Krafcik resigned in April and was replaced by two co-directors.
Cruise, with the support of General Motors Co., Honda Motor Co. Ltd. i SoftBank Group Corp., has focused on San Francisco since its inception. The permit application was reported to have registered 2 million miles of autonomous driving (3.22 million km) in the city.
Waymo said it has had more than 83,000 autonomous miles in its proposed deployment area, according to its app.
“You have a faster path to significant revenue in dense urban environments like San Francisco than in suburbs like Chandler,” said Grayson Brulte, a consultant who advises companies on autonomous mobility strategies.
Waymo told Reuters that the permit would allow him to “complete paid deliveries in autonomous mode, with a driver behind the wheel.” The company said it could finally offer passenger service without anyone else in the car.
Cruise made no immediate comment.
Companies would not be the first to obtain one of two permits needed to operate rental robotaxis in California. Silicon Valley startup Nuro became the only company to get a DMV deployment permit in December. Nuro announced in March an unspecified investment from Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc, which it said was interested in new delivery systems.
If Waymo and Cruise got DMV approval, they would need a permit from the California Public Utilities Commission to start charging passengers.
To date, San Francisco and Silicon Valley autonomous cars have been used primarily in testing, although vehicles, with swirling lidar detection equipment on the roofs, have become an increasingly common sight. Cruise and Waymo plan to maintain some limits during commercial operations as public concerns grow about the safety of autonomous driving systems.
Waymo said in its app that it would have a safety controller on its Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans and all-electric Jaguar I-Pace SUVs. They would operate 24 hours a day, offering trips or transporting goods by road with speed limits of up to 65 mph in San Francisco and in the northern part of the border with San Mateo County.
Waymo said it could turn off autonomous mode in specific areas, such as highway ramps and construction areas, or for heavy rains and wet roads. Cruise also said it may limit driverless deployment to “certain routes” and “slightly inclined weather conditions,” without detailing that.
Cruise said its service hours would be from afternoon to early morning with speeds of up to 30 mph, according to documents.
When ready for commercial deployment, the company would receive $ 1.35 billion from SoftBank’s Vision Fund as part of a previous investment deal.
The schedule for the deployment of self-driving vehicles that generate revenue has been repeatedly pushed back.
“It’s an incredibly difficult thing that we’re trying to solve,” said Timothy Papandreou, a former Waymo employee who now leads Emerging Transport Advisors.
This year, Waymo has also been discussing collaboration with San Francisco transportation authorities and university labs to secure an unspecified grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to investigate the use of AVs to provide a first / last mile traffic service “in San Francisco, according to public records seen by Reuters.