Argo AI can now offer the public rides in its autonomous vehicles in California – TechCrunch

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Argo AI, the autonomous vehicle technology startup backed by Ford and VW, has landed a permit in California to allow the company to give people free rides in its self-driving vehicles on the state’s public roads. According to the approved application, the California Public Utilities Commission issued the so-called Driver AV pilot permit earlier this month. It was posted on its website Friday, a little more than a week after Argo and Ford announced plans to launch at least 1,000 self-driving vehicles on Lyft’s ride-hailing network in several cities over the next five years, starting with Miami and Austin.

The permit, part of the state’s Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service pilot, puts Argo in a small and growing group of companies seeking to expand beyond traditional AV testing — a signal that the industry, or at least some companies, are preparing for commercial operations. Argo has been testing its autonomous technology in Ford vehicles around Palo Alto since 2019. Today, the company’s test fleet is about one dozen self-driving test vehicles.

autonomous vehicles

Aurora, AutoX, Cruise, Deeproute,, Voyage, Zoox, and Waymo have all received permits to participate in the CPUC’s Driver Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service Pilot program, which requires a human safety operator to be behind the wheel. Companies with this permit cannot charge for rides. Cruise is the only company to have secured a driverless license from the CPUC, which allows it to shuttle passengers in its test vehicles without a human safety operator behind the wheel.

Snagging the CPUC’s Driver permit is just part of the journey to commercialization in California. The state requires companies to navigate a series of regulatory hurdles from the CPUC and the California Department of Motor Vehicles — each agency with its tiered system of permits — before it can charge for rides in robotaxis without a human safety operator behind the wheel. The DMV regulates and issues permits for testing autonomous vehicles on public roads. Three levels of permits are issued by the DMW, which allow companies to test AVs on public roads with a safety operator behind the wheel. More than 60 companies have this essential testing permit.

Driverless testing permits, in which a human operator is not behind the wheel, have become the new milestone and a required step for companies that want to launch a commercial robotaxi or delivery service in the state. The following permit allows for driverless testing, followed by a deployment permit for commercial operations. AutoX, Baidu, Cruise, Nuro,, Waymo, WeRide, and Zoox have driverless permits with the DMV.

The final step with the DMV, which only Nuro has achieved, is a deployment permit. This permit allows Nuro to deploy at a commercial scale. Nuro’s vehicles can’t hold passengers, just cargo, which allows the company to bypass the CPUC permitting process. Meanwhile, the CPUC authorized in May 2018 two pilot programs for transporting passengers in autonomous vehicles. The Driver Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service Pilot program, which Argo just secured, allows companies to operate a ride-hailing service using autonomous vehicles as long as they follow specific rules. Companies are not allowed to charge for rides, a human safety driver must be behind the wheel, and detailed data must be reported quarterly.

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