Driverless taxis are coming to San Francisco | Smart News

A cruiser is going for a ride in San Francisco.

Photo by Andrej Sokolow/Getty Images

The next time San Franciscans hail a cab, they can get into a car with no one behind the wheel. Driverless taxis are now allowed to travel on city streets, under certain conditions.

Last week, California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) regulators voted to grant a new license to Cruise, the self-driving vehicle subsidiary of General Motors (GM). The first of its kind permit allows Cruise to charge for trips for its autonomous fleet, without a human driver in the car.

Cruise already offered free spins in its self-driving cars, but the move allows the company to launch fully self-driving commercial operations in the Bay Area. Cruise and Waymo, which is owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet and originally launched as Google’s self-driving car project, were also able to charge for self-driving rides, but security drivers had to be present.

Although Cruise hails the permit as a big win, his self-driving cars aren’t completely free to roam the streets of San Francisco as they please — the commission is also putting in place various restrictions.

Cruise can only operate 30 self-driving vehicles without a safety driver, and the company can only charge for rides between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. in neighborhoods outside of the bustling downtown, according to the CPUC. Weather conditions are also a factor: no self-driving taxis when heavy rain, heavy fog, heavy smoke, hail, sleet or snow are forecast. And only people from the same group can ride in a driverless taxi – shared rides are not allowed.

car rearview mirror

Cruise can operate 30 self-driving taxis between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. in select areas of San Francisco.


With the green light, Cruise plans to gradually roll out driverless fares, with a focus on providing “magical and safe service” for passengers, writes Gil West, the company’s chief operating officer, in a blog post on the company’s website.

Cruise’s technology is made up of a series of sensors and cameras built into a Chevrolet Bolt, an all-electric car made by GM. Cruise also announced plans for his own car, the Cruise Origin. The Origin lacks pedals, mirrors, a steering wheel and mostly consists of a seating area that resembles the back of a limo, where passengers can face each other.

Cruise is the first self-driving car company to be able to charge for rides in a major US city, but it’s not the first overall: Waymo offers fully driverless cars. rides in chandlerArizona, since October 2020. Yet the ability to operate in the bustling Bay Area, home to more than 7 million people – is “a major milestone for the shared mission of the [autonomous vehicle] industry to improve life in our cities,” according to West.

Self-driving vehicle proponents say the technology has the potential to reduce road deaths and injuries, expand transportation options and accessibility (such as for people with disabilities and the elderly), save money and reduce the environmental impact of cars. As former Waymo CEO John Krafcik said Smithsonian Tom Vanderbilt of the magazine in 2018, humans “can be good drivers when we’re focused. But because we’re human, we’re often not focused.

But not everyone is convinced that self-driving cars are ready for prime time. Many remain concerned about safety, liability and cybersecurity and overall various studies have found that consumers are still mistrustful of technology. Accidents and deaths caused by self-driving programs like Waymo or Tesla’s Autopilot likely contribute to this mistrust.

“Many of the claimed benefits have not been demonstrated, and some claims have little or no substantiation,” Ryan Russo, director of transportation in Oakland, Calif., told the California Public Utilities Commission last month, as reported. reported on Associated Press“Michael Liedtke.

It remains to be seen how the new driverless taxi experience will play out in San Francisco. But based on the large number of companies who are rushing to develop self-driving vehicles and the tens of thousands of people on waiting lists for robotaxi ridesthe cruise pilot program is at least on the verge of popularity, if not success.

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