AV Companies Resume Testing Passenger Vehicles

Article By : Egil Juliussen

After a pandemic-induced halt, testing of autonomous vehicles driving passengers has resumed.

At the end of last year, testing of autonomous vehicle (AV) passenger services began again in California, resuming progress toward the day commercial AV passenger services will be approved. Testing shut down completely in response to the pandemic, but began to revive last summer. As a practical matter, only three companies (Pony.ai, Waymo, Zoox) performed enough testing to generate a meaningful amount of data, and one company (Aurora) had its permit to test revoked, but testing activity is clearly picking back up.

Two California agencies have oversight of these testing activities: the Department of Motor Vehicles and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). Permits and reporting are required by both organizations. The California DMV has run an autonomous vehicle (AV) testing program since 2015 and we have been tracking these results for multiple years. The 2021 results were released in February 2022 and was summarized in this column.

The CPUC has also started collecting information on AVs but is focused on passenger transportation applications and deployment. The project name is: CPUC Autonomous Vehicle (AV) Drivered and Driverless Pilot and Phase I Deployment Programs. This column summarizes and analyzes the information that is available on the CPUC website at: Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service Programs (ca.gov).

The CPUC regulates the use of AVs for passenger service anywhere in California. It does so through permits for the programs, data collection, analysis and potential investigative or enforcement actions. The CPUC has adopted specific goals for the AV passenger programs:

  • Protect passenger safety.
  • Expand the benefits of AV technologies to all Californians, including people with disabilities.
  • Improve transportation options for all, particularly for disadvantaged and low-income communities.
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions, air pollutants and toxic air contaminants, particularly in disadvantaged communities.

The next table is a summary of the status of these AV passenger services including strategy, participants, reporting requirements and other information.

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AV Passenger Vehicles

On May 31, 2018, CPUC authorized two pilot programs for private transportation of passengers in test autonomous vehicles:

  • The “Drivered AV Passenger Service” pilot program allows passenger service in test AVs with a driver in the vehicle. Under this pilot program, a safety driver assists with operations if needed.
  • The “Driverless AV Passenger Service” pilot program allows passenger service in test AVs without a driver in the vehicle. This pilot program requires a teleoperation communication link between passengers and “remote operators” of the vehicle—available and maintained at all times during passenger service.

On November 20, 2020, CPUC authorized two new AV passenger services:

  • One deployment program for Drivered AVs with fares authorized for services.
  • One deployment program for driverless AV service deployment program.

In addition, applicants to the Driverless Pilot Program and the Driverless Deployment Program are required to submit Passenger Safety Plans to protect passengers. Applicants in the AV deployment programs must obtain an AV Deployment Permit from the California DMV.

The Driverless Deployment program also requires the submission of a Tier 3 advice letter in addition to the TCP (Transportation Charter Party) permit application. Instruction for requirements and applying for CPUC AV permits is detailed in this 36-page document.

CPUC requires quarterly data for each vehicle and each passenger trip. The data is focused on the goals listed earlier—use of BEVs, services for everyone, operational parameter such as miles without passengers and time spent transporting passengers. There is summary data below.

Drivered Deployment 

As of February 28, 2022, Cruise’s ODD allows for Drivered Deployment service on selected public roads in San Francisco during the hours of 10 pm to 6 am at speeds of up to 30 mph.

Waymo’s ODD allows for Drivered Deployment service in designated parts of San Francisco and San Mateo counties at any time of day or night at speeds of up to 65 mph.

These permits allow for passenger service in AVs with a safety driver present in the vehicle. Cruise and Waymo are authorized to collect fares from passengers for this service and may offer shared rides.

Nine companies have received permits for drivered pilots for free passenger services. Trials started in 2018 and there were significant activities in 2019 and first quarter 2020. Then the pandemic hit, and all testing stopped. The activities pickup in August 2021 for a few companies. Currently data is only available through November 2021 with another quarter of data expected in April.

The above table summarizes the activities based on the quarterly filing that are available in spreadsheet format. Three companies had no usage data — Argo.ai, DeepRoute.ai and Voyage Auto. Voyage was recently acquired by Cruise.

Aurora’s permit has been revoked according to the CPUC website dated February 28, 2022, but no more information was available.

Two companies had some activities with AutoX reports showing 1,200 miles of driving and Cruise with 870 miles. Cruise are doing extensive testing with California DMV that are not counted in these reports.

The data from the drivered pilots show that only three companies have meaningful data — Pony.ai, Waymo and Zoox. Waymo had the overwhelming amounts of activities and accounted for over 93% of the miles driven by the nine companies. The next section has more details on these three companies.

Waymo Activities

The next table is a summary and analysis of Waymo’s CPUC quarterly data. It is divided in two parts plus a total of the two parts. Waymo started the drivered trial in July 2019 and stopped in March 2020 as the pandemic hit. It used between 48 and 85 AVs and drove over 791,000 miles and served over 57,000 passengers by end of March 2020. Miles driven to pick-up passengers was 12.3% of total miles. A few wheel-chair accessible rides were also completed at 305.

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Waymo restarted its testing in August 2021 and completed nearly a million mile of testing using 249 Jaguar I-Pace BEV by end of November 2021. Its passenger count is very low at only 1,635 people, which means most of the testing was without passengers, but could have been with employees. The AV miles to pick-up passengers is also very low and not meaningful.

Adding Waymo’s two trial segments give 1.791 million miles. Waymo is clearly the main user of CPUC trial permits. This is likely to change as Cruise start using its recent permits and other companies crank up their activities after the pandemic.

Pony.ai and Zoox Activities

Pony.ai only had activities from June 2019 to March 2020 as the pandemic stopped all activities. It used 10 to 12 AVs and drove nearly 97,000 miles — with over 99% via BEVs. Miles to pick-up passenger was 18%. Pony.ai transported over 9,900 passengers. It had not re-started its activities by November 2021.

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Zoox primarily had activities in February and March 2020 and then stopped. Zoox used 5-12 AVs and covered over 30,000 miles; over 92% was EV miles. AV miles to pick-up passengers was high at nearly 29%. Zoox transported over 5,000 passengers.

It is likely that both Pony.ai and Zoox will restart their drivered trial activities.

It is important to remember that these trial and deployment permits have very limited areas of operation and are defined by specific ODD (Operational Design Domain) including weather, time of day and speed limits. Driverless operation requires teleoperation via remote communication link.

It will be interesting to see how these passenger services expand in 2022 and which other companies join the competition.

This article was originally published on EE Times.

Egil Juliussen has over 35 years’ experience in the high-tech and automotive industries. Most recently he was director of research at the automotive technology group of IHS Markit. His latest research was focused on autonomous vehicles and mobility-as-a-service. He was co-founder of Telematics Research Group, which was acquired by iSuppli (IHS acquired iSuppli in 2010); before that he co-founded Future Computing and Computer Industry Almanac. Previously, Dr. Juliussen was with Texas Instruments where he was a strategic and product planner for microprocessors and PCs. He is the author of over 700 papers, reports and conference presentations. He received B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering from Purdue University, and is a member of SAE and IEEE.

 

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