California snips legal red tape for robot taxis

waymo taxi

Up to now, California has dished out permits to more than 50 companies wishing to test their autonomous vehicles on the state’s public roads.

Then in April, regulators said it would start allowing tests of self-driving cars without a safety driver behind the wheel, though at the current time few companies are believed to have applied for permission to do so.

In recent days, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) gave the go-ahead for companies to offer rides in autonomous cars to regular folks as part of a pilot program. With many players in the industry aiming to launch robot taxi services, the opportunity to start giving members of the public rides in test vehicles is an important step forward.

Neighboring Arizona already allows such rides, with Waymo, for one, offering them to the residents of Phoenix. It even produced a video showing the reactions of riders as the vehicle automatically navigated the streets without anyone — not even a safety driver — inside the car.

The CPUC has actually given the green light to two pilot programs. One where companies can provide a passenger service with a safety driver behind the wheel, and another without. With the latter, the vehicle’s status and operation must be monitored remotely at all times when the vehicle is on the road.

In addition, the companies are not allowed to charge passengers for any of the rides. So if you’re able to snag a lift in one of the robot cars, you’ll be driven to your destination for free.

We’re now eager to see which companies will be the first to offer rides to regular folks, and the system each one puts in place to manage the operation.

CPUC commissioner Liane M. Randolph said she was “pleased to launch these pilot programs as part of the evolution of the passenger transportation system in California,” adding, “Our state is home to world-class innovative companies and I look forward to these services being offered with the high level of safety that we expect from our passenger service providers.”

Indeed, in the wake of the recent tragedy in Arizona where a pedestrian was struck and killed by a self-driving car operated by Uber, there’s now even more focus on safety as the industry endeavors to convince the public that autonomous-vehicle technology is ultimately a force for good.

Allowing members of the public to take rides in driverless cars not only helps to get people familiar and comfortable with the technology, but also provides companies with valuable data on how people interact with it. As for California, offering companies the chance to accept regular folks for rides keeps the Golden State at the forefront of driverless-car development as companies continue working to enhance their respective systems for the safest and most efficient rides possible.

Product Review

Mercedes-Benz fires its first salvo in the luxury electrification war

The EQC is Mercedes-Benz's answer to the Tesla threat, bringing performance, tech features, and luxury to the growing electric SUV segment. We headed to Norway, the electric car capital of the world, to get a taste of it.

GM hits reverse with Maven car-sharing as it closes service in eight cities

GM-owned Maven will close its car-sharing service in 8 of the 17 North American cities where it currently operates. Competing with the likes of Zipcar and Car2Go, the app-based service offers car rental by the hour or day.

The best iOS games you can play offline on your iPhone and iPad

Even though we're always glued to our phones, we don't always have access to Wi-Fi or have steady service. Whether you're on a flight, riding the bus, or sitting in a waiting room, you can always play these excellent iOS games.

Semi-autonomous and always available: A peek into the near future of car rental

Soon we will see connected rental fleets with a dedicated lane at airports for self-driving cars, where drivers control the car to the airport, and then the empty car drives itself to the rental lot.
Emerging Tech

Soaring on air currents like birds could let drones fly for significantly longer

Birds are sometimes able to glide by catching rising air currents, known as thermals. This energy-saving technique could also be used by drones to allow them to remain airborne longer.

2020 GMC Sierra sees a bunch of updates, including adaptive cruise

GMC announced updates to its 2020 GMC Sierra pickup truck, including much-needed adaptive cruise control, a 3.0-liter turbo-diesel engine option, improved towing cameras, and expanded availability of the 10-speed automatic transmission.

Car designers can predict your future desires. This is how they do it

Automakers employ small armies of designers, and they’re relentless about asking consumers what they want. So, how do you get from the voice of the customer to the designer’s pen, and why does it go wrong so often?
Home Theater

Why you can’t buy Car Thing, Spotify’s first hardware device

Spotify created a voice-activated, in-car device that lets you listen to music and podcasts. But Car Thing, as it is known, is not for sale. Instead, it will be used to gather data from a limited set of customers.

Ford gears up to build rugged, capable hybrid trucks and SUVs

Ford is planning to put hybrid powertrains into big trucks and SUVs, and doesn't want to sacrifice things like towing capacity and off-road capability. A new hybrid system may help do that.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Insect drones and kinetic sculpture robots

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it's fun to gawk!

Walmart slashes prices on electric hybrid bicycles for National Bike Month

Electric bikes can be economical, convenient, and fun. Heading into summer, Walmart slashed the prices for two pedal-assist Hyper E-ride Mountain and City Electric Hybrid Bikes by 40%. We found a variety of e-rides for under $1,000.

GM thinks up new electronic brain for its cars, allowing over-the-air updates

General Motors is launching a new electrical architecture to support more tech features in its cars. The system debuts on the 2020 Cadillac CT5, and will roll out to most other GM models by 2023.
Product Review

Want an electric car that doesn't look like an electric car? Meet Audi's E-Tron

The 2019 Audi E-Tron is the German automaker’s first series-production electric car. Rather than make a bold statement with its first electric vehicle, Audi chose to make the E-Tron as much like its other cars as possible.

Ford aluminum truck beds prove haters wrong, are cheaper to repair than steel

Repair costs were a major concern for truck buyers when Ford launched its aluminum F-150. But insurance data indicates that, if anything, the F-150 may be cheaper to repair than traditional steel trucks.