A rite of passage as an Austinite is feeling bewildered at other drivers’ choices behind the wheel, but that’s starting to change. Cruise, a driverless ridehailing app, has completed its first driverless rides in Austin, marking its official launch.
It was a quick turnaround for the company, which announced its intentions in the Capital City in September, calling the feat “going from zero to driverless in about 90 days.” The service is only in three cities so far — based in San Francisco and expanded out to Austin and Phoenix — but given the success of that timeline, it’s reasonable to expect much more as soon as the company announces it.
“Folks, we are entering the golden years of [autonomous vehicle] expansion,” tweeted Crusie CEO Kyle Vogt while announcing the achievement on December 20.
Vogt seems to be right, at least in Austin. News about driverless vehicles keeps popping up, from pioneering autonomous Lyft rides to independent delivery robots for Chick-fil-A and Ikea. A major difference is the patron; while most other autonomous driving news is centered on using the technology for a well-known company providing value in other spaces, Cruise is driving for itself. (It has, however, received investment funds from companies like Honda and Walmart.)
Rider testimony focuses on safety with an aura of giddiness. Even amid the novelty displayed in a video Vogt shared, riders talked about the vehicle’s caution and smoothness. A safety page on the company’s website claims several measures including constant 360-degree vision, a sensitivity to even very light external touch, and communication between fleet vehicles to assist in machine learning. And if all else fails, the company emphasizes “end-to-end redundancy,” meaning that the system can compensate for failures.
See here for some background and a bit of caution about the actual experience. I don’t really know what the appeal of a driverless taxi is, but whatever it is, Austin would be the first place I’d look for it in Texas, too. If this is something you feel you must try, go here and get on the wait list. And please, please tell us all about it after.