Soon, you'll be able to cruise to your destination without a driver in Houston. Photo via Cruise/Facebook

A new driverless ridehail service is coming to Houston: Cruise, the all-electric, driverless car company backed by GM, is expanding in Texas with launches in both Dallas and the Bayou City.

This follows an initial launch in Austin in 2022, their first city in Texas.

Cruise builds and operates driverless vehicles that you can call via an app, like any other ride hailing service. "But our vehicles show up without anyone else inside," they say.

The entire fleet is all-electric and the vehicles are equipped with a 360-view, with the ability to react to whatever they encounter on the road.

They test their vehicles using simulations, through millions of scenarios and virtual miles; they’ve also driven more than 4 million real miles, mostly in San Francisco.

They have not defined what the cost will be but according to The Verge, the rates in San Francisco vary depending on length of trip and time of day: "A customer taking a 1.3-mile trip would pay 90 cents per mile and 40 cents per minute, in addition to a $5 base fee and 1.5 percent city tax, for a total of $8.72." By comparison, an Uber ride for the same trip would cost at least $10.41.

The company was founded in 2013 and vehicles began to hit the road in 2022. They operate a total fleet of roughly 300 all-electric AVs, powered 100 percent by renewable energy. In addition to Austin, they operate in San Francisco and Phoenix, where they've completed 35,000 self-driving deliveries in a partnership with Walmart.

According to a statement from CEO Kyle Vogt, they'll begin supervised driving (with a safety driver behind the wheel) in Houston as they finetune their AI technology to understand the nuances and unique elements of the city, with Dallas to follow shortly after.

In a blog post, Vogt says their cars drive the speed limit and come to a complete stop at every stop sign. They respond to police sirens, flashing lights on fire trucks or ambulances, and stop signs that fold out of school buses.

They react to people on scooters, people using bike lanes, and cars driving on the wrong side of the road. "In short, they are designed to drive safely by obeying the law and driving in a humanlike way," he says. Actually, that sounds better than humans.

When vehicles encounter a situation where they aren’t 100 percent sure of what to do, they slow down or stop and pull over to the side of the road. This has caused some bumps in San Francisco where cars stopped and idled in the street for no apparent reason, delaying bus riders and disrupting the work of firefighters.

Some of the "bumps" have been comical, such as the 2022 incident in which a confused San Francisco police officer pulled a Cruise over, and then the Cruise drove away.

And as Reuters notes, autonomous vehicles have not rolled out as fast as anticipated, due to regulations, safety investigations, and arduous technology.

When Cruise first enters a city, they hire a mapping and data collection team to learn bike lanes, school zones, and major intersections. But most of the time, the vehicles will be carrying riders in the back seat, or completely empty and en route to another pickup.

The company partners with first responders, including police and fire departments, to ensure they’re ready and familiar with how to interact with the vehicles, engaging with those agencies before and after launch.

"Our guiding mission has always been to improve road safety, reduce emissions, and reduce congestion with our driverless ride-hail service in cities, which is where we’ll see the most significant positive impact the soonest," Vogt says. "Houston and Dallas are committed to reducing traffic deaths as part of their Vision Zero commitments, and we are excited to operate in and partner with these new communities in this shared mission."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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3 Houston sustainability startups score prizes at Rice University pitch competition

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A group of Rice University student-founded companies shared $100,000 of cash prizes at an annual startup competition — and three of those winning companies are focused on sustainable solutions.

Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship's H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge, hosted by Rice earlier this month, named its winners for 2024. HEXASpec, a company that's created a new material to improve heat management for the semiconductor industry, won the top prize and $50,000 cash.

Founded by Rice Ph.D. candidates Tianshu Zhai and Chen-Yang Lin, who are a part of Lilie’s 2024 Innovation Fellows program, HEXASpec is improving efficiency and sustainability within the semiconductor industry, which usually consumes millions of gallons of water used to cool data centers. According to Rice's news release, HEXASpec's "next-generation chip packaging offer 20 times higher thermal conductivity and improved protection performance, cooling the chips faster and reducing the operational surface temperature."

A few other sustainability-focused startups won prizes, too. CoFlux Purification, a company that has a technology that breaks down PFAS using a novel absorbent for chemical-free water, won second place and $25,000, as well as the Audience Choice Award, which came with an additional $2,000.

Solidec, a company that's working on a platform to produce chemicals from captured carbon, and HEXASpec won Outstanding Achievement in Climate Solutions Prizes, which came with $1,000.

The NRLC, open to Rice students, is Lilie's hallmark event. Last year's winner was fashion tech startup, Goldie.

“We are the home of everything entrepreneurship, innovation and research commercialization for the entire Rice student, faculty and alumni communities,” Kyle Judah, executive director at Lilie, says in a news release. “We’re a place for you to immerse yourself in a problem you care about, to experiment, to try and fail and keep trying and trying and trying again amongst a community of fellow rebels, coloring outside the lines of convention."

This year, the competition started with 100 student venture teams before being whittled down to the final five at the championship. The program is supported by Lilie’s mentor team, Frank Liu and the Liu Family Foundation, Rice Business, Rice’s Office of Innovation, and other donors

“The heart and soul of what we’re doing to really take it to the next level with entrepreneurship here at Rice is this fantastic team,” Peter Rodriguez, dean of Rice Business, adds. “And they’re doing an outstanding job every year, reaching further, bringing in more students. My understanding is we had more than 100 teams submit applications. It’s an extraordinarily high number. It tells you a lot about what we have at Rice and what this team has been cooking and making happen here at Rice for a long, long time.”

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

ExxonMobil's $60B acquisition gets FTC clearance — with one condition

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ExxonMobil's $60 billion deal to buy Pioneer Natural Resources on Thursday received clearance from the Federal Trade Commission, but the former CEO of Pioneer was barred from joining the new company's board of directors.

The FTC said Thursday that Scott Sheffield, who founded Pioneer in 1997, colluded with OPEC and OPEC+ to potentially raise crude oil prices. Sheffield retired from the company in 2016, but he returned as president and CEO in 2019, served as CEO from 2021 to 2023, and continues to serve on the board. Since Jan. 1, he has served as special adviser to the company’s chief executive.

“Through public statements, text messages, in-person meetings, WhatsApp conversations and other communications while at Pioneer, Sheffield sought to align oil production across the Permian Basin in West Texas and New Mexico with OPEC+,” according to the FTC. It proposed a consent order that Exxon won't appoint any Pioneer employee, with a few exceptions, to its board.

Dallas-based Pioneer said in a statement it disagreed with the allegations but would not impede closing of the merger, which was announced in October 2023.

“Sheffield and Pioneer believe that the FTC’s complaint reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the U.S. and global oil markets and misreads the nature and intent of Mr. Sheffield’s actions,” the company said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said it was “disappointing that FTC is making the same mistake they made 25 years ago when I warned about the Exxon and Mobil merger in 1999.”

Schumer and 22 other Democratic senators had urged the FTC to investigate the deal and a separate merger between Chevron and Hess, saying they could lead to higher prices, hurt competition and force families to pay more at the pump.

The deal with Pioneer vastly expands Exxon’s presence in the Permian Basin, a huge oilfield that straddles the border between Texas and New Mexico. Pioneer’s more than 850,000 net acres in the Midland Basin will be combined with Exxon’s 570,000 net acres in the Delaware and Midland Basin, nearly contiguous fields that will allow the combined company to trim costs.