Robotaxis aim to take San Francisco on ride into the future

Two pioneering ride-hailing services are heading into uncharted territory as they seek regulatory approval to transport passengers around the clock in one of the most populous U.S. cities, with no one in the driver’s seat.

If GM subsidiary Cruise and Google spin-off Waymo hit their goals by the end of the year, San Francisco will become the first U.S. city with two fully driverless services to compete with Uber, Lyft and traditional taxis — all These all depend on people controlling the car.

But Cruise and Waymo still have to navigate potential roadblocks, including complaints about unintended traffic stops of their vehicles that could inconvenience other travelers and endanger public safety.

Cruise is already charging driverless cars in less crowded areas of San Francisco at night since last juneWaymo has been offering free driverless cars in the wider city while awaiting approval to begin charging for riders in robotic vehicles, something Google secretly began working on 14 years ago.

The effort to roll out competing driverless services throughout San Francisco is becoming the first step in an ambitious expansion plan centered in California — the state now has more than 35 million vehicles piloted by humans registered.

recent cruise apply for permission began testing its robot vehicles across California at speeds of up to 55 mph (88 km/h) — 25 mph (40 km/h) higher than the top speed of its robotaxis in San Francisco. Waymo is already testing its self-driving cars in Los Angeles, the second largest city in the United States.

The California push comes after Cruise began testing its robotaxis in Austin and Phoenix, Texas Waymo’s driverless ride-hailing service starting in 2020 Has been carrying passengers on Arizona roads that are far less congested and challenging than the streets of San Francisco.

“We still have work to do, but it’s improving pretty quickly,” Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt told The Associated Press. “As it’s fine-tuned, it’s going to be very elegant over time, and the security will keep improving.”

Saswat Panigrahi, Waymo’s chief product officer, expects the company’s past experience to pay off as it transfers lessons learned from operating a driverless ride-hailing service in Phoenix to San Francisco and Los Angeles. cities with more traffic.

“The uncertainty is certainly much lower now because fully autonomous services are already operating with real passengers,” Panigrahi said.

both cruise and Waymore recently announced that their driverless fleet has each driven more than 1 million miles without a major accident. But their robo-taxis are also having headaches in San Francisco, causing traffic problems and other nuisances that can inconvenience people or, worse, prevent emergency vehicles from rushing to fires or other emergencies. Call for help.

“It’s easy to expect things, but what’s worrisome is the unexpected that humans react to in real time,” said transportation expert Nico Larco, director of the Urbanism Next Center at the University of Oregon. “At best, if a car is parked in the middle of the road, it just causes chaos, disruption and congestion. But at worst it could actually be harmful to someone.”

Meanwhile, dozens of other tech companies and automakers have joined a race to develop self-driving car technology at a combined cost of more than $100 billion. Their ultimate goal is to make money from robot drivers who are safer and cheaper than human drivers. Robotaxis could also lower prices for passengers, though Vogt thinks consumers might be willing to pay more for a ride without a stranger behind the wheel.

Investments so far by the likes of Tesla CEO Elon Musk have had a mix of successes, failures and hyperbole, he said. forecast nearly four years ago The electric carmaker will operate a sprawling robo-taxi service by the end of 2020, but it’s still not close to realizing that ambition.

There are concerns that the way robotaxis operate will cause headaches for those outside the vehicle in a warning letter The San Francisco County Transit Authority sent it to California regulators in January.

The letter cites at least 92 reported incidents of Cruise robo-taxis stopping abruptly on the street before Dec. 31. At least three of the incidents blocked public transit right-of-way and lasted anywhere from nine to 18 minutes.

Over the past year, driverless Cruise vehicles have also prevented firefighters from rushing to level three alerts, or illegally entering areas where fires were being fought, according to the agency, which asked regulators to delay the release of robotaxis to all locations across San Francisco. time until there is more information about why and how often cars regularly block traffic. Sudden braking and stopping of Cruise robotaxis also investigated Federal regulators since late last year.

“We’re very cautious,” said Tilly Chang, executive director of the San Francisco Transit Authority. “We want to be supporters and help facilitate (driverless driving), but we have to make sure it’s safe.”

Two Associated Press reporters witnessed the potential problems self-driving taxis could cause in mid-February after Waymo vehicles safely ferried them across San Francisco, driving through hilly terrain, swerving through rush-hour traffic and letting pedestrians rush. Exit and enter the crosswalk.

On one ride, the robo-taxi stopped in the middle of the street after an Associated Press reporter alighted, and remained there for several minutes, with a line of human-driven cars behind it. It turned out that one of the rear doors of the driver’s seat did not close completely. In another glitch involving Cruise last September, an Associated Press reporter traveled about 5 miles in a robo-taxi nicknamed “Peaches,” bypassing designated destinations multiple times. The reporter ended up having to use the Cruise app to contact a dispatcher at the remote center to park the car in the middle of the street.

Vogt noted that several improvements have been made since then, and that two different Cruise robo-taxis — one called “Cherry” and the other “Hollandaise” — actually made the same name in a follow-up interview. The reporter and his colleagues were dropped off at their designated points during the trip, though Cherry stopped at a bus stop, briefly blocking the oncoming bus.

Still, Cruise’s owner, the nearly 125-year-old General Motors, remains pretty confident that robotaxis will drive more responsibly than humans and will be able to expand its driverless service to more U.S. markets to As for its bold prediction last fall that Cruise would generate $1 billion in revenue by 2025 — that’s a big jump from Cruise’s $106 million in revenue last year, when it also Nearly $2 billion was lost.

The optimism stands in stark contrast to the dismal experience at another storied automaker, Ford Motor Co. $1 billion paid out in 2017 Acquired self-driving startup Argo AI, only to close the unit last October and take a $2.7 billion loss after failing to find a buyer for the technology.

—Michael Liedtke, Associated Press

taxi technology

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