A brief robotaxi update

Cruise is back on the streets, but with human drivers for the time being.

A driverless Cruise car sits in traffic on Austin Street in downtown Houston on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023. Photo: Jay R. Jordan/Axios

Cruise has announced that it’s resuming tests for its fleet of self-driving taxis in Phoenix, Arizona , though not with passengers just yet. The autonomous vehicle maker says it will start with humans behind the wheel, with no passengers and no autonomous driving mechanisms engaged.

In California, lawmakers banned the GM subsidiary from operating its vehicles in the state after one of them ran over a San Francisco pedestrian and dragged them over 20 feet in October, after another vehicle threw the victim into the robotaxi’s path. That was just weeks after another incident where one of Cruise’s vehicles collided with a fire truck after failing to properly yield to the truck’s emergency signals.

The company’s been dealing with the fallout ever since; Cruise first paused operations nationwide and issued a software update to 950 of its vehicles to change how the cars respond to crash events, amidst multiple investigations into the incidents. They’ve caused something of a mass exodus in the company, starting with then CEO and co-founder Kyle Vogt and nine other leaders. Cruise also laid off 24 percent of its workforce shortly after.

Cruise says its intent with renewed testing is to help improve its systems by collecting more road data to continue feeding its machine learning model, and that it hopes to eventually resume human-supervised autonomous tests in Phoenix. It picked the city, it says, based on its “strong history” of supporting automotive innovation and because many of its employees reside there.

See here and here for some background on the pause, and here and here for more on the first days of Cruise in Houston. I expect it will be awhile before we see these cars on our streets again. I’ll keep an eye out for further updates.

Meanwhile, in the Things No One Asked For department:

Two California agencies that regulate robotaxis said they haven’t heard from Tesla about its plans for the cars, even though Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced last week that he’ll reveal a new robotaxi product in August.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles and the California Public Utilities Commission, or CPUC, said in separate statements to NBC News that Tesla hadn’t applied for the two permits it would need to operate a driverless car service in the country’s most populous state.

Two other states that regulate robotaxis, Arizona and Nevada, also said they had not heard from Tesla about its plans.

The lack of permits — or any attempt to acquire them — raises questions about how quickly Tesla would be able to get a robotaxi service up and running.

“Tesla’s a long way away from getting that approval,” said Brad Templeton, a consultant in the autonomous vehicle industry.


The CPUC handles permits to operate robotaxis as businesses, including for tech startup Waymo’s services in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Tesla has no CPUC permit and hasn’t applied, the commission said.

“If Tesla wanted to provide a robotaxi service they’d need to follow the same rules as other such companies (i.e., DMV approval for driverless testing/deployment before seeking a CPUC permit). The CPUC has not been contacted for such a permit,” the commission said in a statement in response to questions.

You can read the story about that announcement here. Elon Musk says this will happen even though the company does not appear to be anywhere close to ready for it. What could possibly go wrong?

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