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I’ve never been to San Francisco. But it’s quickly becoming my favorite city. I’ve teleoperated Boston Dynamics’ Spot around Golden Gate Park and we’re getting closer to being able to hail driverless robotaxis around the city.
Autonomous vehicle company Cruise, a subsidiary of GM, yesterday released a video showing its first driverless robotaxi ride without human safety drivers. And, conveniently, Cruise co-founder, CTO and president Kyle Vogt pulled a Jeff Bezos by being the first passenger.
“Around 11pm Monday night we launched an AV without anyone inside for the first time,” tweeted Vogt. “Until now we’ve been testing with humans in the driver’s or passenger’s seat, so this was a first. It began to roam around the city, waiting for a ride request. At 11:20pm I used the Cruise app and summoned my first ride. After a few minutes, one of the Cruise AVs (named Sourdough) drove up to me and pulled over. Nobody was inside the car. I pressed the ‘start ride’ button and the AV smoothly pulled back into traffic.”
There is another video (watch below) that shows the robotaxi driving to pick up Vogt and then take him to The Independent, a live performance venue in SF’s NoPa district. The video shows both Vogt enjoying the ride in the backseat and the data captured by Sourdough’s sensor stack. It’s a great visualization of the hectic driving environment autonomous vehicles have to navigate in SF, even when driving at 11:30 PM.
Cruise recently received a permit to offer robotaxi rides to public passengers in California. The permit allows Cruise to operate its robotaxis between 10 PM and 6 AM, presumably when there is less traffic in the city. So that’s why this video was filmed so late at night. Still, Sourdough dealt with a lot of congestion and performed some difficult maneuvers.
While Cruise is permitted to give rides to non-paying members of the public, it has chosen not to do that yet, a Cruise spokesperson told The Robot Report. The service is only being used by Cruise employees at the moment. Vogt also wrote in the description of one of the videos, “there are lots of other Cruise employees (not just me) who are testing and refining the full customer experience as we take another major step toward the first commercial AV [ride hailing] product in a dense urban environment.”
1) Monday night was a night I’ll never forget. I’m still speechless. I got to take the first ride, by anyone, ever, in a *driverless* robotaxi on the streets of San Francisco.
— Kyle Vogt (@kvogt) November 3, 2021
Vogt also tweeted that he requested five more rides that night, taking along some other Cruise leaders such as Dan Kan. Vogt received congratulatory tweets from Dmitri Dolgov, co-CEO of Waymo, and Sterling Anderson, co-founder of Aurora, who lead two of Cruise’s main competitors. There’s also a great discussion about Cruise’s milestone on Reddit’s self-driving cars thread.
— Daniel Kan (@danielkan) November 3, 2021
This has been another major week for autonomous vehicles. Waymo today starts mapping New York City. Five of its Chrysler Pacifica minivans will be manually driven around Manhattan. Waymo said NYC’s challenging driving environment and weather will help improve its autonomous driving technology. And Nuro kicked off the week by raising another $600 million in funding for its autonomous delivery vehicles. Mountain View, Calif.-based Nuro has now raised $2.1 billion since it was founded in 2016 and is reportedly valued at $8.6 billion.