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Cruise’s robot taxis head to Arizona and Texas

Cruise’s autonomous cars are heading to Texas and Arizona before the end of this year.

The General Motors-owned company plans to launch ridesharing pilots in Austin and Phoenix in what will be its first expansion of the service outside of San Francisco.

Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt shared the news in a series of tweets on Monday, September 12, revealing that his Austin team is planning to go from having no test vehicles or maps to launching fully driverless rides within the space of just 90 days.

“Some fun news,” Vogt tweeted. “Cruise is bringing driverless rides to Austin and Phoenix later this year. Our team is going from zero footprint in Austin (no test vehicles or maps) to driverless rides in ~90 days. We’ve been prepping for scaling the last couple years, glad to see that work paying off.”

In other comments made this week at Goldman Sachs’s Communacopia and Technology Conference, Vogt said that for its Phoenix pilot, Cruise will continue engaging with Walmart in a partnership that’s working toward the launch of a delivery service using self-driving cars.

He added that Cruise recently received the necessary permits to launch commercial ridesharing and delivery services in Phoenix, and with the city’s roads already mapped, operations are set to begin there soon using a fleet of its modified Chevy Bolt electric vehicles.

According to the CEO, Cruise’s pilot ridesharing service will begin by offering free trips to riders, with fees levied at some point soon after launch. Offering a taste of what passengers can expect, the company released a video earlier this year showing the reactions of the first people to take a ride through the streets of San Francisco in a Cruise car with no one behind the wheel.

Self-driving Cruise cars operating in Phoenix could find themselves trundling along beside vehicles belonging to rival autonomous-car developer Waymo, which has been operating a ridesharing service in parts of the city for several years.

However, by setting up in Arizona, Cruise is arriving in a state whose relationship with autonomous-car programs hasn’t been without controversy. In 2018, a self-driving Uber vehicle knocked down and killed a pedestrian in Tempe in 2018. Following the tragedy, the non-profit group Consumer Watchdog described the state as “the wild west of robot car testing,” accusing it of lacking proper regulations. An Arizona Department of Transportation document lays out some of the rules governing the operation of autonomous cars on the state’s roads.

Suggesting that the need for regulation is more widespread in the sector, labor unions and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety earlier this year claimed that rules governing autonomous cars remained inadequate nationwide, and asked the Biden administration to do more to oversee the more than 1,400 self-driving vehicles currently being tested by some 80 companies across 36 states.

[Updated to state that Kyle Vogt is CEO of Cruise.]

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