Image: Pixabay

Autonomous car company Zoox is poised to become the first self-driving car company approved in California to shuttle public customers, Reuters reported Friday.

Zoox was granted a permit by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to operate its self-driving cars as part of its Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service pilot program. While the permit will allow the company to transport members of the public in its autonomous cars—for free, per CPUC’s stipulations—the program is still reliant on humans, per Reuters:

[T]he robot cars will not be unleashed without human oversight. Regulators are requiring that a backup test driver remain in the driver’s seat to take over if necessary. Zoox is also not allowed to charge passengers, keeping the prospect of a profitable business model elusive.

Zoox is one of 62 companies with a permit to test self-driving cars in California, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles, although most operate in the shadow of Alphabet Inc’s business unit Waymo, which began work on the technology a decade ago.

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Bert Kaufman, the company’s head of corporate and regulatory affairs, said in a statement to Reuters that the move marked “a really, really significant milestone” on the way to its ultimate goal of a commercial launch sometime near the end of 2020.

The news follows California’s announcement earlier this year that it would introduce what is technically two separate autonomous vehicle pilot programs for shuttling passengers: one that requires a trained driver behind the wheel, and one that does not. In both cases, participating companies must provide their services free of charge.

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“I am pleased to launch these pilot programs as part of the evolution of the passenger transportation system in California,” Commissioner Liane M. Randolph said at the time. “Our state is home to world-class innovative companies and I look forward to these services being offered with the high level of safety that we expect from our passenger service providers.”

As Reuters noted, this is a great way for participating companies to work out the kinks in their services, such as unexpected jerking. As for any riders brave enough to participate in programs still working to iron out their flaws, good luck.

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[Reuters, TechCrunch]