Cruise, Tesla, Alphabet Inc’s Waymo and Aurora Innovation Inc are among many companies aiming to deploy fully autonomous vehicle technology in the United States within the next two to three years.
Self-driving vehicle companies from Tesla Inc to General Motors Co’s Cruise are racing to start making money with their technology, outrunning efforts by regulators and Congress to write rules of the road for robot-driven vehicles. On Tuesday, Cruise said that SoftBank Group Corp will invest another $1.35 billion in anticipation of Cruise launching commercial robo-taxi operations. Cruise needs one permit, from California’s Public Utilities Commission, to start charging for rides around San Francisco in vehicles with no human driver.
Cruise, Tesla, Alphabet Inc’s Waymo and Aurora Innovation Inc are among many companies aiming to deploy fully autonomous vehicle technology in the United States within the next two to three years, whether or not federal regulators give them a clear legal framework for doing so. Autonomous vehicle (AV) startups and automakers are under pressure to start generating revenue from billions of dollars of engineering investment over the past decade.
Proposed legislation to create a national framework of rules to govern autonomous vehicles remains stalled in Congress, despite the industry’s lobbying. That has left autonomous vehicle companies free to deploy robo-taxis or self-driving trucks in some states, such as Arizona and Texas, but not in others. Waymo has provided thousands of rides in driverless robo-taxis in Phoenix, though the service remains limited.
Cruise said that SoftBank Group Corp will invest another $1.35 billion in anticipation of Cruise launching commercial robo-taxi operations
“Providing guard rails is helpful, at the federal level,” said Chris Urmson, chief executive of automated vehicle technology company Aurora Innovation. “Today we have different regulations across the 50 states.”
Aurora is testing its Aurora Driver in Class 8 trucks, but so far cannot operate those trucks in California without human drivers. That cuts off a potentially rich market for autonomous truck companies hauling loads from Southern California to distribution hubs to the east.
“We look at the Port of Los Angeles … and the supply-chain challenges we see. There’s a real urgency for this technology” to address the shortage of truck drivers, Urmson said to an audience at the Washington Auto Show last month.
AV industry lobbyist Ariel Wolf told a U.S. House of Representatives panel on Tuesday that autonomous trucks “will not lead to mass layoffs.” Instead, he said, autonomous trucks driving long-haul routes will allow human drivers to “spend more nights in their own beds instead of in the sleeper berth of a truck.”
Unions, however, urged Congress to be skeptical.
“We are at risk … of losing hundreds of thousands of manufacturing and frontline transportation jobs if Congress fails to act decisively and the AV industry is left completely unregulated,” Transport Workers Union president John Samuelsen told the House panel Tuesday.