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California to legalize autonomous taxis: Could AI make your business travel cheaper?

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The California Public Utilities Commission put out a new proposal Friday that would allow the makers of autonomous vehicles to transport passengers without a human backup driver present.

The allowance of such rides would be the second of two pilot programs laid out in the proposal—the first of which allows for rides in self-driving vehicles with a human driver present. However, the program will only be available to those who have a Transportation Charter Permit (TCP).

“The pilot program shall be available only to TCP permit-holders with permitted driverless AVs that have been in permitted driverless [autonomous vehicle] operation for a minimum of 90 days, as well as restrictions which we impose herein,” the proposal stated.

The rides also must be free. Under the limits of the proposal, no money can be exchanged from passengers for rides. Automakers must also log the number of rides completed and how many ride requests from disabled passengers are fulfilled.

As noted by Reuters, the new proposal will be voted on next month. The proposal follows regulations already put in place by the California DMV, which the proposal said it would work in tandem with. The DMV regulations went into effect last week.

Of course, this is good news for firms like Alphabet’s Waymo, Uber, Tesla, and other tech giants that are working on such products. However, it’s also a benefit for GM, Ford, and other legacy manufacturers as they race to catch up with the leaders in the space.

However, the safety of autonomous vehicles have come into question recently, as an Uber vehicle in self-driving mode struck and killed a pedestrian in March. A fatal Tesla crash also raised concerns over the technology.

For business users, the advancement of such technology could have a big payoff in terms of cheaper business travel and lower costs for commuting. Without the overhead of human drivers, taxi firms could charge less per ride while meeting their same margins, and better compete for business.

For everyday drivers, though, it could just mean lower cost of living overall. A 2017 report from RethinkX noted that, by 2030, it could be 10x cheaper to just take electric autonomous taxis all the time than it would be to own a car.

 

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