Cruise, General Motors’ autonomous vehicle subsidiary, is ready to start testing on the streets of San Francisco without safety drivers in the vehicles, Cruise CEO Dan Ammann said in a blog post.
Cruise received a permit from the California DMV to remove the human backup drivers from the company’s self-driving cars. The company isn’t the first to receive approval for autonomous testing, but it’s a significant step forward.
“Before the end of the year, we’ll be sending cars out onto the streets of SF — without gasoline and without anyone at the wheel. Because safely removing the driver is the true benchmark of a self-driving car, and because burning fossil fuels is no way to build the future of transportation,” Ammann said.
“It will be a low key, quiet moment. But the echo could be loud. I get it — the drama of this might be hard to appreciate. All anyone will see is a car, silently driving by itself through the city. Not speeding. Not crashing. Just quietly cruising,” he said.
The Cruise announcement came as other autonomous vehicle ventures have announced they are stepping up efforts to test self-driving vehicles, which has been hobbled by the pandemic and doubts about whether the technology is ready for the road.
Waymo has announced it will be resuming testing in Phoenix and Ford its partners are in preparing to build a 40-mile long test strip on public streets between Dearborn and Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Wall Street, according to analysts, remains skeptical and the technical challenges of fielding a self-driving vehicle that can manage the variables that go with driving a vehicle in traffic on city street remain daunting despite technical advances.
Ammann also re-iterated that Cruise’s fleet will not create emissions that contribute to global warming.
“As we’ve been stuck at home, viewing the world through either real or virtual windows, every bit of depressing news has felt magnified,” Ammann said.
“Like many of you, I looked through my window a few weeks ago and saw climate change up close and personal. No longer subtle or abstract, it was bright orange and everywhere. The problem suddenly seemed more massive and immediate than ever,” Ammann said. “And while the planet is on fire, the culprits are literally rolling up and down my street. Single occupant, human-driven, gasoline-powered cars are the second largest contributors of greenhouse gases on Earth,” he added.
“But big solutions to intractable problems aren’t just hacked together overnight. Moonshots take an unwavering commitment over a long time, while riding cycles of expectations that swing wildly from hype to disillusionment,” he said.
Ammann comment on climate change are among the most forthright ever made by a senior executive in the automobile industry come amid what potentially could be a contentious court fight over automobile regulation, which now basically hangs on a 2007 Supreme Court decision decided by a 5 to 4 decision that gave states the authority to control greenhouse gas emissions.
Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, said during her confirmation hearings, “I do not think my views on global warming or climate change are relevant to the job I would do as a judge, nor do I feel like I have views that are informed enough, and I haven’t studied scientific data.”
Barrett’s nomination was supported by the Federalist Society, which has long supported challenges to climate science. Unsurprisingly, her nomination has not been viewed favorably by environmentalists.