Cruise, like much of the industry, has admitted that the technical challenges of self-driving cars are more difficult than once thought. It had initially planned to launch an autonomous ride-hailing service by the end of 2019. Vogt has learned his lesson: He says it’s no longer “reasonable to put a hard, hard deadline or date” on when fleets of truly driverless vehicles might ferry paying passengers in San Francisco.
Among the challenges, according to Vogt: Cruise needs to know that the vehicle will perform safely and prudently if, say, an internal wire is loosened. It needs to know that the car will react safely facing a situation it hasn’t been trained to deal with. To that end, Cruise has been testing driverless cars for months at a General Motors facility in Michigan.
San Franciscans have not always been comfortable with the self-driving testing in their midst. In the five years since Cruise began testing in California, its cars have reportedly been involved in slap-fights with cabbies, and taken at least one errant golf ball to the windshield. Collision reports posted by DMV indicate that self-driving vehicles testing in California are involved in occasional fender-benders. The most recent reports, from September, show Cruise vehicles testing in autonomous mode have been rear-ended, bumped into, and involved in collisions, which according to the reports sometimes leave the company’s safety drivers with neck or back pain. Self-driving advocates say that while vehicles driven by software will never be perfect, they’ll keep the roads safer than humans, who are sometimes distracted, tired, or drunk. Neither the San Francisco mayor’s office nor the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency responded to questions about Cruise’s new permit.
That future can be hard to visualize, but Cruise has some ideas. The company earlier this year staged a San Francisco launch event for a vehicle it’s calling Origin, a six-seat electric vehicle meant for autonomous ride-hailing and delivery. “It’s what you would build if there were no cars,” Ammann, the CEO, said.
This story originally appeared on wired.com.