Autonomous mobility developer Zoox scored California’s first-ever permit to carry passengers in a self-driving service vehicle, according to TechCrunch. The permit, which is good for three years, requires a human driver in the car ready to take over if necessary. Zoox cannot charge passengers for rides during the test period.
California’s Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has already granted permits to 60 companies to test autonomous vehicles but previously has not allowed passenger pickup and transport. Now, with the launch of the Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Safety Pilot, self-driving car companies can apply for permits to carry passengers. Zoox was first.
Eventually, Zoox plans to put all-electric, fully-autonomous vehicles on the road in commercial use, starting in 2020. Zoox’s ultimate design concept is symmetrical and bidirectional, a zero-emissions vehicle purpose-built for mobility as a service.
The CPUC approved the Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service Pilot, which is actually two programs, in May 2018. The Drivered AV Passenger Service program allows passengers in self-driving vehicles, but a safety driver must also be in the car at all times. Zoox’s permit is for the “Drivered” program.
The second program, the Driverless AV Passenger Service pilot doesn’t require a safety driver in the vehicle but does demand a communication link between the passengers, the vehicle, and “remote operators” at all times. The CPUC has not issued permits and or published a timeline for the “Driverless” pilot program.
Because the state program was established for all stakeholders to observe and learn about autonomous vehicle passenger service, all participants will be required to report on incidents that occur, miles traveled, and the permittee’s passenger safety protocols.
In September, TechCrunch reports, Zoox partnered with San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel and the Global Climate Action Summit to transport certain guests in Zoox-outfitted autonomous Toyota Highlanders between the hotel and the Moscone Center where the Summit was held.
At the time, Jesse Levinson, Zoox co-founder, president, and CTO said, “Zoox was born to improve safety, congestion, and pollution in our increasingly dense cities.”
While Zoox is the first autonomous passenger service car company to gain a permit for the CPUC’s pilot program, many others will follow. Meanwhile, Zoox has first-in-place bragging rights.