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Self-driving cars, once a futuristic projection, have already become old news in California. According to the state's Motor Vehicle Authority, more than 60 companies currently have licenses to test autonomous vehicles. However, California had reached a new milestone on Friday when a self-driving startup, Zoox Inc., allowed passengers to be carried for the first time.
Zoox received its approval as part of a pilot program launched in April by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).
"This is a truly, truly significant milestone on the way to commercial launch, which we said in late 2020," said Bert Kaufman, head of Corporate and Regulatory at Zoox, to Reuters  There are some catches. Zoox can not charge for the trips and each autonomous vehicle or AV must have a certified backup driver.
A sister program launched by the Commission will allow self-driving cars in California to transport passengers without a ba c kup driver. Zoox is currently the only company operating in either program.
Self-driving cars could disrupt entire sectors of the economy, according to Sam Schwartz, the former New York traffic officer and author of the book "No One At The Wheel: Driverless Cars And The Road Of The Future."
"I think everyone expects fewer drivers and that's no surprise," said Schwartz in an interview with Terry Gross recently. "But it also means that there will probably be fewer repair shops … AVs are suitable for fleet operations, especially when they offer trips instead of selling maximum vehicles, so car dealers can disappear."
He suggested that freight companies could lose their business, but the advertising industry could thrive as drivers become increasingly free to turn their attention away from the road to their smart devices.
Critics have now expressed practical and ethical concerns about the dangers of self-driving cars. Earlier this year, a self-propelled Uber Technologies test vehicle hit and killed a woman in Tempe, Ariz. This incident prompted Republican Governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, to suspend Uber's test drives.
Some researchers argue that autonomous vehicles can be trained to be safer than human drivers. Other experts say the limited data from self-driving cars hampers any comparison attempts.
In both cases, self-driving cars on public roads are already a growing presence. The World Atlas of Autonomous Vehicles in Cities covers at least 80 cities that control or plan to test autonomous vehicles. These vehicle fleets collect data and control the practical problems of driving in cities. A video from Zoox shows one of his cars overtaking a parked vehicle in a narrow San Francisco street.
In San Francisco there are parked vehicles everywhere (DPV). Their classification and successful real-time navigation can be challenging for autonomous vehicles. In these examples, you'll learn how Zoox handles them: pic.twitter.com/iOfCytBeKv
– Zoox (@zoox) December 22, 2018
Google's parent company, Alphabet, has that Self-dominated vehicle market, as Reuters reports. The California DMV gave permission to Alphabet's autonomous vehicle division, Waymo, to begin driverless testing on public roads in October, the company said.
Waymo also started a passenger service in Phoenix earlier this month. The Waymo One service charges its customers fully automated rides. In some cases, the company's cars already work without replacement drivers.