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Cruise’s CEO and co-founder Kyle Vogt announced that the self-driving company has started operations in Austin and Chandler, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix. Including San Francisco, where Cruise first rolled out its services, the company now has robotaxi operations in three cities across the U.S.
Rides in the two new cities began earlier this week. Cruise completed 10 public rides in Austin on its first night, and two in Chandler.
Currently, Cruise is able to operate its driverless robotaxi service in Austin between Wednesday and Sunday from 10 PM to 5:30 AM. The company has plans to expand to nightly services in the city in the coming weeks.
In Chandler, Cruise can offer driverless rides in parts of the Phoenix suburb between Monday and Friday from 7 PM until 2 AM. The company already had experience working in Chandler because of its partnership with Walmart.
A particularly exciting aspect of this expansion is just how quickly Cruise was able to get autonomous vehicles on the ground in Austin. While it took years for the company to launch its first service in San Francisco, it only took Cruise 90 days to go from absolutely no infrastructure in Austin, to beginning to give driverless rides.
In particular, I’m proud of the team for building out a repeatable playbook for expansion. In Austin, we went from zero infrastructure (no maps, charging facilities, test vehicles, etc.) to fully functional driverless ride hail service in about 90 days.
— Kyle Vogt (@kvogt) December 20, 2022
Cruise was able to expand so quickly because its system is almost entirely machine learning (ML)-based, according to Vogt. This means that when it comes time to move to a new city, the company’s biggest hurdles are data collection, mining and model retraining.
Not only was Cruise’s system able to meet the company’s performance targets in new cities in just weeks, the system actually improved its performance in San Francisco after learning how to drive in the new cities. Vogt expects this trend to continue as Cruise expands to other areas.
“Overall, the rate of improvement we’ve seen in AV performance over the last year is astonishing,” Vogt said in a tweet. “A ride today feels totally different than one just a couple of months ago. Imagine where we’ll be this time next year!”
Last week, Cruise expanded operations in San Francisco. The company received approval from the California DMV to expand its commercial deployment area. Cruise can now offer robotaxis within San Francisco’s seven-mile by seven-mile area, with a few streets excluded. The robotaxis can operate 24/7.
While Cruise has seen a lot of success in expanding its services, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also announced last week that it was opening an investigation into the company’s automated driving system.
In a filing, NHSTA said it was interested in two different issues that had been reported to the administration that both resulted in the robotaxis becoming hazards for others on the road. The first is an issue with the robotaxis breaking too hard when approached from behind. The second issue, unrelated to the first one, involves Cruise’s vehicles becoming immobilized on the road.
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