Cruise Automation follows Waymo's and Uber's lead with its debut of a beta version of an app-based driverless ride-hailing service for its employees in San Francisco, ahead of a possible launch of a full-fledged commercial offering within four years.
Cruise, which General Motors (GM) purchased last year for about $1 billion, also published a video about its Cruise Anywhere beta program earlier this week that shows employees hailing Cruise's Chevrolet Bolt driverless cars in San Francisco with a smart phone app.
The service appears in the video to work like Uber's or Lyft's ride-hailing services, and is available for use by its employees up to 24 hours a day. Cruise confirmed it is expanding its fleet by 100 cars, but did not disclose what the total will be. However, as the video shows, a technician remains behind the wheel of the car, but only rarely takes the wheel, Cruise confirmed.
As mentioned above, Cruise is not the first firm to offer a beta-version of an app-based ride-hailing service. Uber came to the party first by adding self-drive Ford Fusions in Pittsburgh in 2016 and Volvo XC90 SUVs in Tempe, Ariz. to its fleet earlier this year, after abandoning its plans to offer driverless Volvo XC90 SUVs embedded in its fleet of cars in San Francisco. A company spokesperson recently confirmed Uber's driverless program was ongoing, despite being embroiled in a lawsuit with Waymo, Uber founder Travis Kalanick's recent departure from the company, and other legal problems.
Waymo began to offer over 100 volunteers ride-hailing services earlier this year it said could serve as their primary means of transportation in the greater Phoenix, Ariz. metropolitan area, including Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa and Tempe. The fleet consists of Lexus RX450h and new Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans.
Without access to aggregated data about Cruise's, Uber's, and Waymo's fleet tests, it is obviously impossible to determine at this point how well the geo-fenced driverless fleet tests are working. Under state laws where the vehicles are tested by all three companies, a human driver must remain behind the wheel at all times and still must takeover driving occasionally.
But if successful, it seems as if at least one of these companies is on its way to offer a full-fledged driverless service by 2021 when, according to IHS Automotive data, commercial driverless ride-hailing services could become commercially available.
It is less likely Waymo and Uber will reach an out-of-court settlement in Waymo's lawsuit against Uber for allegedly using information for its driverless program from files and documents that former Google and Uber engineer Anthony Levandowski allegedly stole, as the deposition process winds down. During one deposition, ex-Uber CEO and founder Travis Kalanick described Levandowski's given explanation as "F'ing dumb." Waymo also accused Uber of making its board members available so late in the deposition stage of the trial as a way to sabotage the process ahead of the trial scheduled for October in a federal court in San Francisco.
German carmakers see profits in driverless. Ford Motor executive chairman Bill Ford thinks his company lacks vision to compete in the coming age of driverless, electric cars, and ride-sharing services. A man hidden in the front seat was the source of a much-publicized driverless van hoax in Virginia this week.