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Cruise, the self-driving technology company backed by General Motors and Honda, has begun testing cars in San Francisco with no human behind the wheel.

Why it matters: The driverless tests represent a small but important step toward the future deployment of autonomous vehicles, said Cruise CEO Dan Ammann.

  • "What we’re witnessing here is the move of real self-driving out of the R&D lab and on to the path to being a commercial product that everyone can use."

Reality check: The testing is still fairly modest. Cruise's newly issued driverless test permit in California limits it to just five test vehicles.

  • And while the permit applies to the entire city, Ammann said the cars will stick to just a few San Francisco neighborhoods, and then steadily expand "to new parts of the city, and different times of day...until we're operating everywhere and around the clock with a full fleet of our driverless AVs."
  • A Cruise video highlighting the first driverless trip shows it occurred at night, in a residential neighborhood, with no other cars encountered except those parked along the side of the street.
  • An operator in the passenger seat held a "kill switch" but had no access to the traditional driver controls, a Cruise spokesperson tells Axios.

What they're saying: "There are no shortcuts to achieving a moment like this – especially when the complexity of the driving environment is like 40 times more difficult than a typical suburban setting," Ammann said.

For the record: In October, Waymo opened its driverless taxi service to the public in a Phoenix suburb.

Go deeper

Sep 25, 2020 - Economy & Business

Eyeing the end of gas-powered cars

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Gasoline-powered cars may be going the way of the woolly mammoth, even if it will take decades to replace them and seems hard to fathom today.

The big picture: Internal combustion engines (ICEs) have powered automobiles for more than 100 years. But the shift to electric vehicles, slow to materialize at first, is now accelerating due to tightening government policies, falling costs and a societal reckoning about climate change.

25 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Beto not even best Dem against Abbott

Beto O'Rourke speaks at a rally at the Texas State Capitol in June. Photo: Sergio Flores/Getty Images

Actor Matthew McConaughey’s nine-point lead in a theoretical matchup against Greg Abbott shows just how vulnerable the hard-right Texas governor could be in a general election.

Why it matters: Abbott has won conservative accolades for his abortion, mask and vaccine bans. Axios reported Sunday that former Rep. Beto O’Rourke is preparing to announce a gubernatorial challenge — but a recent poll shows he’s not even the most popular Democrat in the state.

25 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Delayed maps upend midterm campaigns

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Midterm candidates are panicking about how the congressional maps will ultimately be drawn, with several strategists telling Axios campaigns are in limbo.

Why it matters: Candidates are unsure if the district they're targeting will remain intact or be reshaped by the process. The uncertainty is especially vexing to Democrats, who are vying to maintain their narrow margin in the House.