In California, Argo AI may now provide public rides in its self-driving vehicles.

Argo AI, the Ford and VW-backed autonomous vehicle technology firm, has received a permit in California that will allow it to provide free rides in its self-driving vehicles on public highways.

According to the accepted application, the California Public Utilities Commission gave the so-called Drivered AV pilot permit earlier this month. It was published on its website on Friday, a little over a week after Argo and Ford revealed plans to debut at least 1,000 self-driving cars on Lyft’s ride-hailing network in a variety of locations over the next five years, beginning with Miami and Austin.

The authorization, which is part of the state’s Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service pilot, adds Argo to a small but increasing group of businesses looking to go beyond standard AV testing — a hint that the industry, or at least some companies, are getting ready to go commercial. Since 2019, Argo has been testing its self-driving technology in Ford cars in Palo Alto. In California, the company’s test fleet consists of around a dozen self-driving test vehicles. In addition to Miami, Austin, Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh, and Detroit, it has autonomous test cars.

Aurora, AutoX, Cruise, Deeproute, Pony.ai, Voyage, Zoox, and Waymo have all been granted licences to participate in the CPUC’s Drivered Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service Pilot program, which necessitates the presence of a human safety operator behind the wheel. This permission does not allow companies to charge for rides.

Cruise is the only business that has obtained driverless authorization from the CPUC, allowing it to transport people in its test cars without the presence of a human safety operator.

Obtaining a Drivered authorization from the CPUC is only the first step on the road to commercialization in California. Before charging for rides in robotaxis without a human safety operator behind the wheel, the state needs firms to clear several regulatory barriers from the CPUC and the California Department of Motor Vehicles, each with its tiered system of licences.

The DMV is in charge of regulating and issuing licenses for autonomous vehicle testing on public roads. The DMW issues three types of permits, the first of which allows businesses to test autonomous vehicles on public roads with a safety driver. This basic testing authorization is held by more than 60 businesses.

The next permission allows for driverless testing, followed by a commercial deployment permit. Permits for driverless testing, in which no person is behind the wheel, have become the new benchmark and a need for firms looking to start a commercial robotaxi or delivery service in the state. The DMV has issued autonomous permits to AutoX, Baidu, Cruise, Nuro, Pony.ai, Waymo, WeRide, and Zoox.

Nuro is the only person who has gotten deployment permission from the DMV. Nuro may now deploy on a commercial basis thanks to this permission. Nuro’s trucks can only carry freight and not passengers, allowing the firm to avoid the CPUC approval procedure.

Meanwhile, in May 2018, the CPUC approved two pilot projects for autonomous vehicle passenger transportation. The Drivered Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service Pilot program, which Argo just obtained, permits firms to run a ride-hailing service utilizing autonomous vehicles as long as they adhere to certain guidelines. Companies are not permitted to charge for rides, and a human safety driver must be present at all times. Additionally, specific data must be provided quarterly.

The second CPUC pilot will allow Cruise to launch an autonomous passenger service in June 2021.

It’s worth noting that getting to the holy grail of commercial robotaxis necessitates obtaining all of these permissions from the DMV and CPUC.

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