A driverless ride-hailing service is coming soon to Houston.
Cruise, a California-based subsidiary of General Motors, announced Wednesday that it will begin making test drives in Houston next week with a human supervisor behind the wheel. The plan is to launch a fully autonomous commercial service in the city within the next few months, according to a Wednesday tweet by Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt.
Cruise unveiled its driverless ride-hailing service early last year in its home city of San Francisco and expanded to Austin and Phoenix by the end of 2022. The company needed about three months' worth of testing in each of the latter cities, according to Cruise spokesperson Tiffany Testo, who said test runs will begin in Dallas shortly after they start in Houston.
"This phase that you'll see kicking off here in Houston is our supervised driving, which allows us to finetune," Testo said. "Every city is different and they have nuances. It's just a matter of making sure our technology is ready for public roads and rides."
A small number of driverless vehicles, used primarily to make food deliveries and haul cargo, have been on Houston-area roads in recent years, first through partnerships between robotics startup Nuro and companies such as Kroger. Last August, Kodiak Robotics began using self-driving 18-wheelers to transport IKEA products between the Houston and Dallas areas, and Aurora Innovation, Inc., announced earlier this year that it plans to launch an autonomous freight-hauling service between Houston and Dallas by the end of 2024.
Testo said the mission of Cruise, which was founded in 2013 and has raised a total of $10 billion in capital commitments from companies such as GM, Honda, Microsoft and Walmart, is to "improve road safety, reduce emissions and reduce congestion." It has a fleet of about 300 electric vehicles powered by renewable energy, according to Testo.
The entire fleet was recalled for a software update in late March after a Cruise vehicle rear-ended a city bus in San Francisco, with Vogt writing in an April 7 blog post that the crash caused no injuries and the autonomous car was traveling about 10 mph at the time. Reuters reported last month that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened a safety probe into Cruise's driverless system in December after receiving incident reports that Cruise vehicles "may engage in inappropriately hard braking or become immobilized."
Testo said she did not immediately know how many collisions Cruise vehicles have been involved in since its commercial service launched early last year in San Francisco, but acknowledged there have been crashes that in some cases have caused minor injuries to passengers.
"We're really proud of our safety record," she said. "We've driven just about at the 2 million mark of driverless miles with passengers and have no major injuries or fatalities."
Cruise's driverless ride-hailing service, which can be secured through an app, operates continually in San Francisco and only at night in Austin and Phoenix, with Testo saying there typically is more of a demand for the service at night. Cruise cars also are making autonomous deliveries in Phoenix through a partnership with Walmart.
It has not been determined when exactly the ride-hailing service will initially operate in Houston, or where exactly in the city it will be available, according to Testo, who said the cost of the service varies by market. In San Francisco, she said the base price for a driverless ride is $5, and passengers are then charged per mile and per minute while taking an optimal route.
"On the whole, we are priced competitively for what you would pay for traditional ride-hail," Testo said.