Skip to main content

Californians can now have their groceries delivered by autonomous vehicles


California just took a major step toward the commercialization of autonomous vehicles by approving them for light-duty use on public roads. This will pave the way for companies to use autonomous vehicles for delivery services in the nation’s most populous state.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles will set up a permitting process for companies wishing to deploy light-duty autonomous vehicles. The ruling only applies to commercial vehicles weighing less than 10,0001 pounds — known as Class 1 and Class 2. That includes vans and pickup trucks, but not larger vehicles such as buses or semi-trucks. Some companies — including Waymo and TuSimple — are testing autonomous semi-trucks in other states with friendlier regulatory environments.

The ruling will benefit companies looking to use autonomous vehicles in delivery services. Startup Nuro already uses small autonomous vehicles to deliver groceries in Arizona and Texas, where state regulations already allow that. The company plans to apply for a permit to operate in California as well, according to The Verge.

Delivery services represent a somewhat lower bar for the deployment of autonomous vehicles since they don’t require convincing a skeptical public to ride in the vehicles. In addition to Nuro, Ford is working with Domino’s, Postmates, and Walmart on pilot autonomous delivery services using modified passenger cars. In 2018, General Motors-owned Cruise struck a deal to use its test cars as delivery vehicles for DoorDash.

California already allows autonomous passenger cars to operate on public roads, and even lets companies use them to pick up passengers. Bosch and Mercedes-Benz recently launched a pilot autonomous ridesharing service in San Jose, while Hyundai, Via, and plan to offer free rides in self-driving cars to people in Irvine. California also lets companies operate prototype self-driving cars without a human driver behind the wheel, although so far only Waymo has been granted a permit to do this.

In its original incarnation as the Google self-driving car program, Waymo kicked things off about a decade ago, when it began testing prototype self-driving cars at the Alphabet campus in Mountain View, California. Today, 65 companies are registered to test autonomous vehicles on California roads, with a combined 670 vehicles registered with the state DMV, according to officials.

Editors' Recommendations

Stephen Edelstein
Stephen is a freelance automotive journalist covering all things cars. He likes anything with four wheels, from classic cars…
Apple Car will be fully autonomous with no driver input, insiders claim
apple ios developer academy logo

The ongoing “Apple Car” saga took another turn on Wednesday when a new report claimed the expected electric vehicle (EV) will be fully autonomous and designed to operate without the need of a driver.

“These will be autonomous, electric vehicles designed to operate without a driver and focused on the last mile,” an unnamed source with knowledge of Apple’s plans told CNBC.

Read more
What is Tesla Autopilot and how does it work?
A Tesla Model 3 electric car.

Don't let the name Autopilot fool you: None of the cars in Tesla's current range are capable of driving themselves. Instead, Autopilot is a partially automated system that is regularly improved via over-the-air software updates. It relies on eight surround-view cameras that give the car 360-degree visibility for up to 820 feet, 12 ultrasonic sensors, and a forward-facing radar. Tesla has regularly stressed that, unlike its rivals, it doesn't believe in lidar technology.

The data gathered by Autopilot's hardware allows the car to steer, accelerate, and brake automatically within its lane, commonly called adaptive cruise control, though the company warns the system requires active driver supervision. In other words, even if your Model S can steer itself around a bend, you shouldn't be watching a movie while you cruise down I-80 at 75 mph. There are many circumstances Autopilot can't handle on its own, and the driver could be asked to take over without notice.

Read more
CES 2021 and cars: What we expect in autonomous cars, EVs, and more
Sony Vision-S Concept Car

The automotive world has been turned on its ear in recent years, as the greatest car shows of the world dimmed beside and ultimately vanished into the penumbra of CES. CES has truly taken over the world of transportation: The world’s greatest gadget show has become one of the world’s biggest car shows, where dozens of car builders and accessory makers come to show off their latest wares.

In years past at CES, we’ve driven self-driving cars and tractors, been wowed by futuristic autonomous busses, and seen some of the biggest tech companies dip a tentative toe into the automotive world – I’m looking at you, Sony. What should we expect from CES 2021? Here are a few educated guesses at what to watch out for.
Autonomous cars galore
In years past, we’ve tested autonomous car tech from any number of companies. Last year I cruised around Vegas in a custom Lincoln MKZ, powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon Ride, a handful of chips and a software stack that can fit into a box no bigger than your backpack and can tie together the cameras, communication systems, and navigation needed for autonomy. In 2018 we rode in an Aptiv-powered Lyft, which we found the best kind of boring.

Read more