These are two short videos of autonomous Cruise vehicles driving around San Francisco. Cruise, which is owned by General Motors, received a permit from the state of California to operate autonomous vehicles — without a safety driver — in September of last year. In November 2021, one of the cofounders of Cruise took the first ever driverless taxi ride in the company’s history. And on February 1, 2022, Cruise announced that it was opening up to the public.
If you read the comments on Twitter you’ll see that some people have found these vehicles to be hyper reactive to traffic lights and to do oddly long pauses at stop signs. So I guess they’re not perfect. But oddly long pauses are certainly better than not stopping at all. Either way, this is a big deal. I’m not sure if these are the first unsupervised autonomous vehicles out in the wild, but they are easily some of the first.
There has been a lot of discussion over the last few years about autonomy being a hugely tricky technical problem to solve. One that is perhaps more difficult than a lot of people thought it would be at the outset. I’m assuming that this is at least one of the reasons why ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft ended up selling off their AV divisions while searching for profitability.
But the market never gave up and it’s pretty exciting to see this coming to fruition. Oliver Cameron is VP, Product at Cruise and the former CEO of Voyage (which was acquired by Cruise last year). If his tweets (above) are any indication, San Francisco is going to be seeing many more autonomous vehicles in the coming months.
This is going to have a profound impact on the unit economics for ride sharing companies like Uber, but more importantly it is likely to have a profound impact on our cities. Mobility innovations have a way of doing that. Some of the impacts might be negative, but I believe that many of the impacts can and will be positive.
As most of you will know, I am a believer in dense and walkable cities. I do not believe in planning cities around cars. And so that is not what I am advocating for here. My view is simply that I think autonomy grants us the ability to rethink our definition of a “vehicle.” And maybe it becomes something that more closely resembles public transit. That could be a positive thing for our cities and something that draws people away from private vehicle ownership.
So I remain both optimistic and excited about what’s to come.
Have any of you had a chance to ride in an autonomous vehicle? If so, leave a comment below or on Twitter.