Cruise is opening up its driverless robotaxi service to the public in San Francisco as the GM subsidiary creeps toward commercialization with a fresh $1.35 billion investment from SoftBank Vision Fund.
SoftBank had previously committed to investing an additional $1.35 billion, on top of its initial $900 million investment, once Cruise was ready for commercial deployment.
For now, these rides are free and a public waitlist has been set up Tuesday via Cruise’s website. The company said in a blog post Tuesday that members of the public who join the waitlist will not have to sign a non-disclosure agreement before using the service. There were a small group of friends and family who completed rides on January 27 and they were under NDA until this morning, a company spokesperson said.
Cruise’s initial driverless service is from 11 pm to 5 am, a company spokesperson confirmed, adding that night driving is part of its strategy to start where it can have the best impact and expand methodically from there. Cruise tests its autonomous Chevy Bolt vehicles throughout San Francisco. However, the driverless service is limited to certain areas and streets within the Haight-Ashbury, Richmond District, Chinatown and Pacific Heights neighborhoods.
Cruise has nearly all of the permits required to operate and charge for rides in vehicles that operate without a human driver behind the wheel. It has the three permits required by the California Department of Motor Vehicles to test and deploy drivered and driverless vehicles, including one that allows it to carry the public. It also applied for a permit with the California Public Utilities Commission to charge for those rides, though the company has not yet received that permit.
Over the past several weeks, Cruise employees have posted videos of themselves hailing driverless vehicles that do not have a human safety operator behind the wheel. GM Chair and CEO Mary Barra was the latest to take a ride.
The company has allowed employees to nominate members of the public, and some of them have already taken rides, according to the company. Cruise has dubbed this program the Cruise Rider Community program. People who are nominated by employees or sign up on the waitlist will be incorporated into the pipeline to be among the first public riders, according to the company.
Cruise’s move to open the service to the public follows the sudden departure of its CEO Dan Ammann. Kyle Vogt, who co-founded Cruise, is interim CEO, as well as CTO.
Updated: to include the times and areas where the driverless service will be operational.