General Motors Cruise test vehicles
Source: General Motors
The California Department of Motor Vehicles announced on Tuesday that it will now allow a broader variety of driverless vehicles to be tested on the state’s public roads, including those in the light-duty category, meaning small to mid-sized trucks and vans.
The mandate for autonomous trucks and vans could prove a boon for so-called “teleoperation” startups like Phantom Auto, or help autonomous vehicle makers who have already planned to use remote monitoring and remote vehicle operation features.
According to the new rules, light-duty driverless vehicles that carry items like pizzas or groceries can be test-driven on California roads, as long as the organizations testing them obtain a permit from the California DMV, and either have a safety driver on board, or meet a list of tech and reporting standards.
Among other requirements, companies testing the vehicles without a human test driver behind the wheel in California will have to build in a link to a remote operator. They must also agree to share data with the state — submitting an annual “disengagement report” and collision reports to the DMV within 10 days of any incidents involving their cars, for example.
No company has yet obtained a permit to charge fees for deliveries that are conducted with autonomous test vehicles, but Softbank-funded Nuro has applied to do just that, a spokesperson said.
GM Cruise, which has a partnership with the food delivery platform DoorDash, did not answer requests for comment. A Ford spokesperson said, “We are currently testing AV’s in California, but have not applied for the light-duty autonomous delivery vehicles permit.” An Uber Eats spokesperson said the company has no plans to apply for such a permit.
Currently, 65 companies — including Aurora, Tesla, General Motors’ Cruise, and Apple — hold permits to test autonomous vehicles on public roads in the state of California with a safety driver on-board, but not to conduct deliveries with these. Only one company, Alphabet‘s Waymo (formerly the Google Self-Driving car project) has attained a permit for fully driverless testing on California public roads today.