Australian Company Approved For American Self-Driving Car Trial

An Australian-founded self-driving car startup has snagged the first permit from California regulators to begin offering autonomous rides to passengers.

Zoox, co-founded by now-ousted Aussie expat Tim Kentley-Klay and bankrolled in part by tech rich-lister Michael Cannon-Brookes, won the permit from the California Public Utilities Commission.

A number of other companies have been testing self-driving cars on California public roads with employees and their family members but Zoox is the first to win authority to test the service in the state with members of the public.

"This is a really, really significant milestone as we head towards commercial launch, which we have stated is toward the end of 2020," Bert Kaufman, head of corporate and regulatory affairs at Zoox, told Reuters.

There is two catches, however. Zoox can't charge for the service and each autonomous vehicle must have a certified backup driver.

Earlier this month, Google spinoff Waymo started a small paying passenger service in the Phoenix area of Arizona, where regulations are less rigid than in California.

Zoox won $US500 million ($A700m) in funding earlier this year to raise its valuation to about $US3.2 billion ($A4.5b). Its board ousted Kentley-Klay in August.

Based in Foster City, California, Zoox hopes to deploy an autonomous ride-hailing service by 2020.

Featured image: Zoox Instagram