Full Commercialization of Robotaxis Arrives in San Francisco

Not everyone is happy.

By Wolf Richter for WOLF STREET.

Robotaxi regulator, the California Public Utilities Commission, after hours of testimony from supporters and opponents, voted on Thursday to allow GM’s Cruise and Alphabet’s Waymo to charge riders for driverless robotaxi service, day and night, anywhere in San Francisco, with no cap on fleet sizes. They can now commence full commercialization of robotaxis in San Francisco.

We’ve been seeing them everywhere in San Francisco: Fully autonomous vehicles (AVs) from Cruise and Waymo with no driver and one or two people in the back, and vehicles with no one in them at all. They’re generally well-behaved. They smoothly roll up to a stop sign, come to a complete stop, stay there for a couple of seconds, and then softly accelerate away. They stop when the light turns yellow and don’t floor the accelerator to get through the intersection on dark-yellow or whatever. And they don’t do donuts in intersections.

San Francisco is a challenging environment to drive in, immensely congested, with steep hills that impede visibility at intersections, lots of pedestrians and bicyclists, and people on weird electric conveyances with one wheel or two wheels or three wheels.

Occasionally, a hilarious video goes viral of a police officer or firefighter trying to tell a robotaxi what to do. Someone came up with the prank of the year, or whatever, by getting a bunch of empty robotaxis to all meet in one intersection, clog it up, stop, and bring everything to a halt for hours until human drivers could sort it out.

Human drivers do stupid things all the time, from donuts in intersections to going down embankments. They injure and kill pedestrians, bicyclists, and each other and their passengers. And they constantly get into minor accidents that no one even tracks. That’s normal. But robotaxis are held to a higher standard. And they’re doing amazingly well in that regard.

But they do some things humans don’t do, like completely blowing off instructions from first responders and just freezing in place.

So this show has been going on in San Francisco for a while, to the great amusement and frustration of everyone around. But the robotaxi companies have been limited in the commercialization of the service. Waymo was allowed to only offer free driverless rides (to charge, a safety driver had to be in the vehicle); and Cruise was allowed to charge only for rides at night in limited parts of the City; the rest of the time, it could offer only free rides. But those restrictions were lifted on Thursday with the vote of the CPUC.

City officials, the fire department, and the police department have for weeks urged the CPUC to slow down the rollout of full commercialization because they worried about the interference of robotaxis with “the work of first responders,” as Fire Department Chief Jeanine Nicholson told the commission during the public hearings on Monday. “Our folks cannot be paying attention to an autonomous vehicle when we’ve got ladders to throw,” she said.

Officials cited 55 incidents over the last six months where robotaxis got in the way of first responders.

Through June, City agencies – which last year began collecting data on disruptive robotaxi incidents to prove that robotaxis weren’t ready for full commercialization – tallied 600 such incidents, such as interfering with public transportation or blocking traffic. City officials that have to deal with these messes worry that full commercialization of much bigger fleets would increase those disruptions.

Other opponents, including activists and unions, worry about the jobs of drivers – the jobs of lots of drivers. And you can see where this is going by what GM said in its Q2 earnings call, via Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt:

“There’s over 10,000 human ride-hail drivers in San Francisco, potentially, much more than that, depending on how you count it. Those drivers of course aren’t working 20 hours a day, like a robotaxi could. So, it does not make a very, high number to generate significant revenue in a city like San Francisco, but certainly, there’s capacity to absorb several thousand per city at minimum.”

And people worry that large fleets of robotaxis will make congestion even worse, and they worry about all sorts of other mayhem.

Waymo said it has a permit for 250 AVs and deploys about 100 at any given time. Cruise said it operates 100 cars in San Francisco during the day and 300 at night. So the current fleets are relatively small. But with full commercialization, the fleets are bound to get much larger.

Both companies have invested many billions of dollars in developing this technology, and they will want to eventually get a return on their investment. So ramping up the fleet size would be the first step. But that also is a huge capital investment because the AV technology, for now, makes those vehicles expensive.

Cruise CEO Vogt addressed some of the issues of ramping up the fleet size:

“As for what it would take to blanket a city like San Francisco, our goal is – I think I’ve said on previous calls – is to make sure as we ramp-up manufacturing capacity. We’ve got a variety of markets to absorb those vehicles. And there are practical reasons to ramp-up gradually in a city … as it’s transitioning to a new form of mobility. So, it’s not our intention to sort of produce vehicles and sort of direct them all into a single city.”

Vogt also said that Cruise exceeded 3 million miles in 49 days in the cities it operates in; that it’s now doing over 10,000 rides per week; and that its rides are growing at 49% per month on average over the last six months.

Investors can be an impatient bunch, and analysts are poking around during earnings calls. After sinking billions of dollars into robotaxis, these companies are under pressure to show significant revenues. Uber and Lyft got lots of revenues, but they lost eyewatering amounts of money year after year – in part due to the cost of human drivers and related expenses.

Cruise and Waymo are now replacing the cost of drivers with other costs, including the much higher costs of the vehicles and the much higher costs of the people who are building, expanding, and maintaining the technology. So that equation isn’t going to be easy to work out.

Meanwhile, we cannot wait for this to be truly commercialized to an every-day-for-everyone level to where it’s cheaper than car ownership, so we can get rid of our car that is mostly parked somewhere, and get rid of all the hassles and costs, and just let the machines do the driving when the driving needs to be done. We’ve already waited for a decade; what’s another decade?

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  278 comments for “Full Commercialization of Robotaxis Arrives in San Francisco

  1. Finster says:

    There are people and places for which any kind of public transportation could never replace a personal vehicle. Some people use theirs as an extension of their home … a kind of rolling suitcase that carries belongings they might need at any time or place and which exceeds the capacity of wallets, purses, etc. These services will become very popular, but not completely supplant what’s become a part of the American way of life.

    • Ted T. says:

      Was driving with my daughter to the Springstein concert at Wrigley Field last night. I remarked about a woman carrying a gigantic purse. “Dad, she doesn’t have a car to put her stuff in so she carries it all with her in that bag.” Urban living is different than the suburbs.

      • longstreet says:

        It is common for people in urban areas to leave phone and wallet at home for fear of being robbed.
        Just bring a credit card (which can be deactivated) and a little cash

        • Johnny says:

          Common? I don’t know a single person that leaves there wallet let alone a cell phone at home because they fear being robbed. If it’s that bad in your area I suggest you move immediately.

    • AaRoW says:

      I suppose that makes sense in more rural areas, but I think this solution is being targeted at urban centers where ride density is high and the hassle of finding parking often far exceeds the utility of having a rolling closet parked nearby.

      My father was an elevator mechanic in NYC and used to half-jokingly say that half his job was sitting in traffic and searching for parking. He absolutely needed to have a van full of tools and parts nearby. However, by my guess a small fleet of autonomous tool vans circling the city would pay for themselves in terms of recoverable downtime VERY quickly. I’m also sure he would have appreciated the chance to read the paper during the 4hr round trip commute in stop and go traffic.

      • NBay says:

        It’s funny you mention elevator mechanic. Elevators would NEVER be allowed to use ANY of the components these cars use, except wire. As of 2013 (at UCSF) I asked the mechanic inspecting the garage elevators if they were still banned from using any solid state devices. He said , “Yep, fail safe old fashioned mechanical relays and relay logic ONLY. Click-click-click.”
        It’s a damned good highly certified gig to have, BTW, sure was in the P/O when I worked there. Actually our sorting machines safety stop lines were not either, but they were pushing it at the feeder. Asked an instructor at school about it and he changed the subject.

        • Ethan in NoVa says:

          Huh? Elevators use programmable logic controllers and variable frequency drives and all that.

        • NBay says:

          If true, things are moving VERY fast. Have to check on that, I may be more of a dinosaur than I thought.

        • NBay says:

          I must have caught one not changed over yet. You are right, I am wrong. I learned so I “win”…..thanks.

          Relay-controlled elevator systems remained common until the 1980s; they were gradually replaced with solid-state systems, and microprocessor-based controls are now the industry standard. Most older, manually-operated elevators have been retrofitted with automatic or semi-automatic controls.

          Must make elevator inspector certification a real nightmare…..something else to blame on government stupidity, I guess.

      • RH says:

        Yikes! I used to live in SF and love it. However, is it a good city for this? What with some narrow streets often made narrower by parked cars, wandering homeless, poorer, public maintenance, closing businesses, and the unusual, steep hills, am I the only one who wonders if it will be hard to detect pedestrians illegally crossing the streets when they are either significantly below or above the vehicle at dusk/night? (I found it hard for me sometimes.)

        Also, even cars might be hard to detect if they are crossing on an intersection that is up a steep, SF hill. At minimum, driverless vehicles would have to drive very slowly and have very good brakes to avoid hitting persons or low-slung cars like Teslas or sports cars on intersections blocked by parked cars or hills. I would not be able to be calm and read the paper in a driverless vehicle in SF at night. LOL

        Designated, carefully maintained lanes for driverless cars on select, SF streets might work. PI lawyers work promotion otherwise?

        • Wolf Richter says:

          The issues you mention are precisely the ones where AVs are better than humans. We live on a busy intersection in SF, 4-lane street with 2-lane street, and a light, and a hill on both streets, and these morons turn right on red into the 4-lane street all the time though they cannot see what’s coming up the hill. There is on average 1 crash a month. A fun one was the vehicle that came down the steep hill on the other side, tried to make it through the intersection and turn left, lost control and hit our building. The front part of the vehicle got caught up in the steel cable that holds our decrepit utility pole in place, and so he was stuck until the policy came. At other times, pedestrians got hit. Several motorcycles got hit. We had three hit-and-runs, including one that was being chased by police… they nailed the guy a few doors down with their guns drawn. Never a dull moment at our intersection. Because humans are terrible drivers. That’s why AVs are going to be a godsend.

        • RH says:

          Dear Wolf,

          It is endearing how confident you are that corporate-owned, self-driving cars will be safer than cars being driven by humans who would be liable or die if they make traffic accidents, but still cause them regularly. As a former corporate lawyer, I cannot share your beliefs: more likely, the corporate owners of robotaxis will bribe the local judges en masse, so they will then throw out cases brought against them for their negligence.

          I write this on a computer that I have been struggling with for days, because the screen goes black and the computer fan spins crazily every time after about half an hour — for days. I build my own computers (and those for family for relaxation) but sometimes, their problems still mystify me.

          I have various computers at home: not because I want multiple computers, but because having multiple computers and tablets will ensure that at least one works when I must work. The latest vulnerabilities of the biggest chip-makers should interest you: e.g., the “Meltdown” vulnerability will reportedly cut the speed of your computer in half.

          In particular, I really love the updates of the firmware and software of a lot of these new, self-driving vehicles, through easily intercepted, wireless signals, in an age when quantum computers which will be able to crack any encryption are progressing nicely. (That is also why I will never buy any of the garbage-cryptos.) At least, I look forward to what will happen when one of the brothers Dick, or whatever, or one of their spiritual successors, gets into one of those robotaxis near some cliff or dangerous intersection— if Anonymous or some other hacker group learns about that. LOL

          After the robotaxi is utterly destroyed, any hacking may not be even traceable, since so many police have the IQ level, technical expertise, funding, and diligence of my old bulldog: who loved to sleep.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Sheesh. Human-driven vehicles are already FULL of computers. They have thousands of semiconductors in them, including in your trunk lock, and software runs everything. Over the past 10 years, they’ve come with computer screens in the dash. The entire engine management system has been computerized for 30 years. Have you not ever owned a modern vehicle (last 30 years)?

        • RH says:

          To clarify, my reference to computers having constant problems and malfunctions (like the computers operating the robotaxis will also suffer), is because any computer that is not unplugged, buried in a Faraday cage, dismantled, and ideally, melted into slag by thermite fires, can probably be hacked or corrupted. For example, this computer may have spyware or some virus or exploit, since I visited the wrong website, or maybe, just possibly, because, for years, I have used it to write so many accurate, negative things about the Pooh.

          To any robotaxi customers:
          Good luck rebooting your robotaxi’s computer as it is careening down a steep, SF street or near some cliff! Glad I no longer live in SF.

  2. patrick says:

    the faster safe autonomous cars and trucks are rolled out the better – now for the screams of the luddites they are always with us

    • LIFO says:

      First, penicillin. Now, driverless vehicles. What will they think of next?

      I suppose that all those unemployed drivers can be retrained as coders or surgeons. I’ll bet that surgeons will eventually be replaced by machines, too.

      Don’t worry too much about us Luddites. Worry about hundreds of millions of hungry, unemployed, armed-to-the-teeth Americans.

      • Carlos says:

        It certainly doesn’t seem like we are anywhere near that problem right now.

        Full employment, despite the endless march towards “robots taking our jerbs,” and consumers at every economic strata spending like drunken sailors, outstripping inflation.

        • LIFO says:


          You are right. We’re not there now. My point is that we should be looking ahead. Today, we have machines that flip hamburgers and 3D printers that make houses. Automobile manufacturing today is far more automated than it was in Henry Ford’s time. Much of the blue-collar middle class has vanished. Companies usually seek ways to eliminate employees because that increases their bottom line. What they don’t seem to process very well is that they will be losing customers when all of the other companies eliminate employees, too.

        • El Katz says:

          But they still need people to fix all this fancy stuff. “But..but..but… AI!”

          AI isn’t going to crawl into a hole to replace a pump and a robot likely won’t fit.

          A lot of this crap falls into the “just because you can doesn’t mean you should” category.

          I wonder if the “put an orange cone on the hood” fad is going to take over here in the U.S.?

        • Wolf Richter says:

          El Katz,

          The video went viral, and that was it. These folks are already finished. That stuff stopped. It was just a stunt to make a viral video. Lots of viral videos are purpose-built to go viral. The internet is a strange place.

      • michael earussi says:

        I understand. All those buggy whip makers and blacksmiths are still out of a job.

        • Dave says:

          Didn’t Henry Ford have a famous saying about paying his workers enough so they’ll be able to afford his cars. Also weekend’s off to enjoy them.

        • sufferinsucatash says:

          There are still blacksmiths at expensive equestrian tournaments! They put the shoes on the horses and do repairs. Even Bill Gates is in on the sport, I hear.

        • NBay says:

          Just saw a short documentary about how H. Ford took 2 other titans of industry on regular weekend camping trips and went heavy on all their “fun times” PR to try to get people to use their cars for fun rather than just NECESSARY trips……

          IT WORKED…..in SPADES!!!!!

          I believe that is what is called “building a market”…..I’m primarily a Luddite because this “building a market” shit has trashed our planet….maybe beyond saving for our species….or most of us. I also know enough science and tech to be extremely doubtful of our ability to repair the damage, no matter what the “visionaries” say.

        • Tom Jones says:

          Actually blacksmiths make a great living, specifically shoeing horses. And there are a LOT of horses in the USA. As for buggy whips. Well, there’s the Amish.

        • Paul from NC says:

          Certainly not all. Many draft horses working daily, and buggies to boot around where I live (thankfully).

      • Felix_47 says:

        Can you train a robot to do unnecessary surgery?

      • Bs ini says:

        Yep surgery is already robotic for a decade as well though run remotely by the surgeon at the moment sort of like the driverless car with a driver watching

        • BobE says:

          My favorite comment is:

          “Do you want some grubby, shaky, sweaty hands of a surgeon digging into your guts in a non-sterile operating room, or would you prefer the precision of finely tuned sterile robotic steel making precise decisions in nanoseconds?”

          I kind of feel the same way about self-driving taxis. Except for the problem of keeping all of the sensors clean in a very dirty environment. Same issue with drivers who have very dirty windshields.

      • WHTW says:

        Well said.

      • phillip jeffreys says:

        Eh…the luddites will eventually understand all the vulnerabilities in the newer, no man in the loop, system-of-systems and exploit the living bejeepers out of em!

        Count on it! It’s built into complexity.

        • NBay says:

          As in what a great time to be a clever, bored, mischievous 8th grader…..I’m almost jealous…but we had our fun.

        • phillip jeffreys says:

          The big boys are playing the same game! With better resourcing, of course.

      • elysianfield says:

        Yes, and what of those elements of society that earn a living by “Jacking” those soon to be unemployed drivers? Where they gonna go? What they gonna do”

        Learn to code?

      • 91B20 1stCav (AUS) says:

        Lifo – re: penicillin. There’s a large difference between ‘discovery’, ‘invention’, and ‘re-imagination’, thinking required for all, though …

        may we all find a better day.

      • NBay says:

        Penicillin was “discovered” by a very clever mold trying to fight off bacterial predators. It had no venture capital that I know of, in fact I don’t think it was a capitalist or any other -ists in our languages. Some curious human bungled into a funny looking Petri dish.

        Substitute flush toilets and sewage treatment….that was probably the biggest life extender in thousands of years.

        • 91B20 1stCav (AUS) says:

          NBay – just so, and better-stated (…I shoulda said ‘thinking’ necessary for human utilization…).

          may we all find a better day.

        • Paul from NC says:

          …and also the biggest source of waterway and ultimately ocean pollution every invented.

        • 91B20 1stCav (AUS) says:

          Paul – aye, we humans are superb at doing things like that, wittingly or not…

          may we all find a better day.

      • Yort says:

        Someday driverless taxis will be amazing. Today is not that day.

        Yet practice makes perfect thus some cities are going to have to have to deal with the growing pains.

        I would have thought a completely flat “tic-tac-toe” city street layout like Phoenix would have been a safer way to beta robotaxis than hilly-dilly LA.

        Yet maybe CorpMerica will help solve the LA homeless situation and let the homeless sleep in their robotaxis late at night after the homeless clean their front windows???

    • Flea says:

      Bye to car insurance ,Buffett sell geico

      • El Katz says:

        In your dreams. There will still be liability insurance required or you’re Way”no” corporation will get BK’d when it runs over some ill behaved three year old.

        • NBay says:

          I say it both lowest shell level of corps BK in less than a year. That way the principals can get the most $$$$s out of it, from what I’ve been reading here.
          Man I wish I wasn’t too old to pick up stuff at the auction! Great project materials.

    • bulfinch says:

      Hah! I love how quick self-professed futurists are to hump the leg of any lil robot that whizzes past, sneering as they do at anyone not in the same fan club. You don’t have to be a Luddite to be underwhelmed by this tech. George Jetsam is rolling in his grave.

      • phillip jeffreys says:


        I think it’s more about the trade-offs in risks. I’ve worked tech, development, T&E, etc., much of my working life. There are always trade-offs (often hugely costly) – many of which don’t materialize until well after fielding.

        As with just about everything, it’s about risk assessment: what Wolf is leaning into with his, some might argue incomplete, response about reducing the incidence of human caused auto related events that carry a negative expected value.

        • joe2 says:

          I don’t see much discussion about the liability aspects. This would seem to me to be the checks and balance for the introduction of this type of technology. Too dangerous and the insurance premiums skyrocket. Of course assuming it is not gamed and running over dopers doesn’t count for rich corporatists.

          I remember working on similar stuff as an engineer and we worried about professional liability as designers.

      • KLO says:

        Why do some segment of the population always feel persecuted victimhood of people “sneering” at them when for example in this case people are just pursuing a new idea that might be faster or cheaper or more convenient. Where’s the sneer?

        New tech is often underwhelming, driving safely is difficult even for most humans, and likely over time a machine would do a better job on average.

        Who wanted to carry around a heavy cellphone with poor coverage that fried your brain in 1992?

        What was the use of those bar codes on packaging when a grocery store clerk could key in the price of each item in your shopping cart?

        Who needs fuel injection when we have carburetor’s

        Damn I miss having to go to the teller window to deposit checks and withdraw money!

        Those sneering cellphone using, bar code reading, fuel injected, ATM & app using fanboys make me sick!

        • bulfinch says:

          I must’ve touched a button, there. Obviously, we have a total-automation fan…

          What seems to be the ultimate wet dream of every futureboy I ever argue with is the total decoupling of every last traceable molecule of sentience from industry & commerce. This bizarre form of misanthropy can be seen in modern product packaging like an iPhone where noxious chemicals are employed to ensure that nary a speck or fingerprint is detected in the final product, lest it betray the fact that some miserable human being somewhere with pesky little thoughts & feelings oversaw it’s assembly.

          Get over it. We are humans. We are disease-prone thieves, onanists and liars who covet our neighbors wives. We crash; we burn; we break hearts and eat greasy food. We drive cars, and we love to drive cars.

          Flattening this or that curve or reducing this or that latitude of error — unless it’s in the name of the pursuit of beauty or refinement — leads to less control, homogeneity and death by boredom.

          Don’t let the nerds sell you on a planet that looks more like a square ping pong ball from outer space. Enjoy the analog while you still can, kids. It rocks.

        • Anthony A. says:

          Great post, bulfinch!

        • phillip jeffreys says:

          Your lecture misses the point.

          You’re making a huge assumption: that technology will be bounded to intended purpose.

          You have also adopted a point specific rather than system-of-systems pov.

        • bulfinch says:

          Take the blood out of a thing and what do you have? Plastic.


    • NBay says:

      I see great entertainment coming!….for a while…..but I hope these things can’t go over 35 or so….or EVER on the freeway…….sure don’t want THAT much action….they can’t engineer these to NASA or even FAA specs…..they have to be CHEAP.

      BTW, when do we get steer and brake by wire for human driven cars….these already HAVE it…..the default seems to be slowly stopping while going straight and shutting off.

      • NBay says:

        Saw a little about them on SF news. It appears they can do their “thing” maybe even under 20, 30 mph most times in SF. So, fine entertainment and hopefully not much blood till they vanishe like a cassette tape….the main trash on highways from back when I used to walk the wine country back roads with my dog deterring car antenna and boda bag.

        • NBay says:

          Carried a k-bar for dogs that wanted to play hard ball….including two legged dogs.

      • Sams says:

        Have you ever watched dashcam US/Britain/Russia or whatever for the entertainment?

        I am not quite sure that these robotaxies can match the current entertainment…

        • NBay says:

          I’m a race fan. I like good racing not wild violent crashing. Don’t want anyone hurt. So no NASCAR for me, obviously…..except Sears Point…..just to see if they can turn right. :)

          No, just stopping in weird places, strange behavior, and traffic tie-ups and especially people’s behavior about it all will give me a good laugh.

    • gametv says:

      once again, we see that Tesla is NOT leading the transition to autonomous vehicles and is going to be far behind in terms of actually creating a network of autonomous cars.

  3. Ja M says:

    Thanks for this level headed post. Autonomous cars are not without their challenges, but folks who don’t live in Phoenix, San Francisco, or West LA/Santa Monica where these cars are widespread don’t realize that the technology is actually here to make this is a reality – with the caveats of growing pains.

    The amount of people who still believe driverless cars are never going to happen or more than a decade away blows my mind. The technology issue is mostly solved; the challenge is at this point one of economics. The cost to map areas in detail, equip the cars with sensor data, continuously evolve the algorithms, and have a remote support network for situations the car can’t handle on its own is not cheap.

    • Fed Up says:

      I’ve seen them in Phoenix, especially around Sky Harbor. Saw one pull up to a Residence Inn near Sky Harbor in December. Very cool.

    • JeffD says:

      “The technology issue is mostly solved”

      Not true. Not even close. Machines are still pattern matchers. They do great in routine driving environments, but are clueless when something unexpected occurs. For example, if two people are standing in a driveway entrance to a parking lot and chatting/interacting, a human can figure out the context of the conversation and decide what to do about it: honk, drive around, wait it out, etc. as appropriate to circumstance. Cars have no clue how to react, and the technology is not even close that can make that determination. Furthermore, a good number of accident situations are also caused by unexpected events that these cars have no clue how to recognize or react to, and they won’t have that capability anytime soon.

      • JeffD says:

        Here’s an article about a Kangaroo in Oklahoma to help you understand the complexity of the issue:

        • Wolf Richter says:

          1. That was an article from 6 years ago, from 2017. In terms of AVs, that’s an eternity. Ancient history.

          2. Human drivers are terrible at this sort of thing. They hit animal ALL THE TIME. The AV only has to be less bad than humans, and that’s a very low bar.

      • Wolf Richter says:


        You’re hung up on the wrong thing. Human drivers are terrible. They kill 40,000 people a year and injure millions. They run over animals all the time. They run over their own pets. They hit trees! I mean trees! Trees don’t jump into the street usually. They hit utility poles. AVs only have to be less terrible than humans. They don’t have to be perfect. You’re thinking they have to be perfect, but that’s nonsense. All they have to be is less terrible than human drivers.

        • JeffD says:

          Wolf, you are hung up on the wrong thing. How many accidents *didn’t* happen per year precifsely because human judgement was was involved to handle unexpected situations. Rand came to my workplace to discuss this with me and about 20 other people at my workplace (Department of Energy) before releasing their report to the world at large. You are out of your depth on this topic.

        • Wolf Richter says:


          “How many accidents *didn’t* happen per year precifsely because human judgement was was involved to handle unexpected situations.”

          Sheesh. One-sided BS. How many accidents didn’t happen because the self-driving tech prevented them??? That has been Tesla’s big line for years about its crappy Autopilot. And that is correct. Even that crappy Autopilot did prevent lots of accidents and it caused some.

        • vecchio gatto veloce says:

          “Whiskey bottles and brand new cars
          Oak tree, you’re in my way”

          -Lynyrd Skynyrd

        • Jack says:

          JeffD “ How many accidents *didn’t* happen per year precisely because human judgement was was involved to handle unexpected situations”

          Two points:

          1. Most of these unexpected situations are due to human drivers driving poorly. Humans are simply bad drivers, make poor choices, and are getting worse. If it was not for better car safety engineering, more people would be killed today per trip than 1950s.

          2. Safety performance is measured by a) # incidents of per miles driven, and b) severity of the incidents. Comparing the safety performance of human vs machine drivers, machines are winning.

        • Buffalo Billion says:

          Thank you for stating what seems obvious. It’s going to take some time for us to adapt and accept AVs, but the reality is that we began this process years ago. Trains, subways and monorails have had autonomous abilities for decades. While living in China, I saw autonomous buses and construction vehicles. We have autonomous aircraft- though I am unaware of them being tested for passenger transport yet. The reality is that while computers are not perfect and do indeed create many problems, the safety record of humans is still worse. Better is better. It may take some years for AV to reach mainstream life around the world (developing nations will have the opportunity to develop this technology faster than places such as the USA) but in congested cities similar to San Francisco, Paris, Shanghai, New York…there is a place for AVs today. Indeed, the drivers and pedestrians are so often distracted with their ‘smart’ phones that AVs may very well be a lifesaver.

        • KLO says:

          People overestimate the ability of human minds and bodies.

          We accept that a computer controlled transmission, automatic braking system, Shazam song identifier, motion detector, chatgpt response, sorting machines, or any other number of systems that can outperform humans at a finite set of tasks will be incapable of handling more complex tasks with “unexpected “ events.

          After a driverless AI has driven millions of miles it has much more experience than my teenage neighbor speeding down the street, but no one seems to get their undies in a bunch complaining about teen drivers.

          Maybe what needs to change is inconsiderate people standing in the middle of a road or driveway chatting!

        • sufferinsucatash says:

          It’s just another machine.

          Like the washing machine, no person comes over to your house and washes your stuff in the tub, then you tip them.

          We’re just removing the human element from cars to free ourselves up for other tasks that humanity needs.

        • AaRoW says:

          Wolf – Depends on the human :)

          JeffD – I skimmed through Rand’s report “Driving to Safety” which I believe you are referencing. Did/Didn’t is irrelevant in this context, but is sort of hyped up in the article. What they ARE getting at is a treatment of confidence intervals under a binomial distribution. Their point is this… To statistically prove a rare event you have to run a LOT of trials. To gain a high degree of confidence you have to run a LOT of trials. Taken together they come up with 275MM miles. Then they conclude their are not enough AV’s to drive that many miles to prove they are better than human fatality rates at a 95% confidence level. I agree with their math, but it’s a stupid argument to make.

          First, you don’t have to measure rare fatalities to make valid assumptions around expected fatality rates. Accidents are FAR more common and as a stand-in are highly correlated with fatality rates. Rand shows this in their figures, but fails to discuss it.

          Second, 95% confidence is a scientific standard, for knowing a thing. The thing they want to know in this case is can an AV save a life. I would argue that the threshold in this case is FAR lower. Would you pass on helping a drowning child because you were only 75% confident in your ability? That 20% makes a HUGE difference as it cuts the required trial data in half.

          If we’re talking about being 75% confidence that AV’s can avoid more accidents than humans, then the required trial miles are well under 1MM.

        • Lili Von Schtupp says:

          “My wife’s a terrible driver… Last week, she crashed the car up against a tree. She said it wasn’t her fault. She blew the horn.”

          – Rodney Dangerfield

        • 91B20 1stCav (AUS) says:

          Wolf – wonder if ‘human drivers are terrible’ could be expanded to include ‘financial investors’?

          may we all find a better day.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Robo-advisors are already everywhere. Schwab, et al over the service. It would depend on how they’re programmed.

          The problem with human financial advisors is their fee, which impacts what they put their clients into. If they charge a fee of 2% of your assets under management, they’re not going to put you in 5% Treasury bills and CDs because you’d only make 3%. They also don’t get their clients into ibonds, because only the client can buy them directly from the Treasury. Charging fees, such as 2% on AUM, impacts what they recommend. And that should not be the case.

          If robo-advisors charged a fee of 0.2%, for example, then they might make more impartial and therefore better recommendations.

        • JeffD says:

          “Would you pass on helping a drowning child because you were only 75% confident in your ability? That 20% makes a HUGE difference as it cuts the required trial data in half.”

          Well, it depends. If my attempt to save that one child could result in inadertently killing another one, then 75% confident would not be good enough. When these cars have to make life or death decisions, they are in motion, sometimes at great speed. Trying to save one life and getting it wrong can end up in taking another. That’s why high confidence in safety is vital when making decisions surrounding autonomous vehicles.

        • Paul from NC says:

          What you seem to fail to grasp, is that the *vast majority* of safety violations by AI/robotaxis, are *not at all* reported to anybody.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Nor are those violations by human drivers reported. They happen every second of every day. Humans are terrible drivers.

      • Shawn says:

        Machine Learning part of AI which has been around since the 1950s has its drawbacks.

      • Brian says:

        The things left to solve are small compared to what has already been solved. Bad weather is a problem but could be solved, for example, with RFID chips injected in the road when lines are painted. And robots will 1000x better than humans in a snowstorm because they won’t try good-weather reactions by habit.

        Every bad “judgement call” by a vehicle only needs to be recognized once for the entire fleet to be trained how to deal with it.

        Robots aren’t better than people in every situation but they’re better (actually much better) on average and they learn faster because they don’t have to learn individually.

        When L5 driverless cars become available for the public to buy, I expect you’ll see insurance companies reduce the cost to the owners, starting with something like: $0 deductible if the car was in self-driving mode when the accident occured.

    • phillip jeffreys says:

      Make the people who drive self-driving cars pay for the entire infrastructure!

    • DawnsEarlyLight says:

      What!?! No more lunch time breaking news of high speed car chases on California highways? Enough is enough! /s

    • phillip jeffreys says:

      Personally…I don’t care what species of auto folks chose to drive. I just want my options maintained and I do not want the political body being used to force me and other taxpayers to foot the subsidy bill.

      Folks wanna pass off control of a facet of their lives to coders, testers, often easily defeated sensors – go for it! IMO, it’s a personal risk calculation as well as a societal risk decision. I just want choice at an affordable price – at my risk tolerance level.

  4. Jackson Y says:

    Public transportation is already robust in San Francisco. Compare to, say, Vallejo, where there are only 8 bus routes covering a similarly-sized (50 sq mi) city. There are appropriate places for this kind of technology. In San Francisco, these robotaxis will generate privatized profits for Google & GM while producing negative externalities for everyone else. The fares that will be charged also suggest they will mostly be used by upper-middle income tech bros rather than the working class.

    • Ross says:

      It would be interesting to take the Vallejo budget for those 8 bus routes, including rolling stock, driver salaries, fuel, maintenance, fair collection and administration, and see how many rides for low-income riders it could pay Waymo to provide. What if for the same cost of those 8 bus lines, Vallejo could pay for 50 robotaxis that could take anyone anywhere in the city, door to door, 24/7?

    • Jack says:

      “ The fares that will be charged also suggest they will mostly be used by upper-middle income tech bros rather than the working class.”

      These robo taxis will allow middle class to eliminate personal vehicle ownership. Why pay for a car to sit around in the garage – what a waste of an asset.

      • Jm says:

        The time profile of auto use must be considered. If you have enough self-driving cars to handle rush hour commuting, a large fraction of them are going to be sitting idle at other times. Consider also the case of commuting in a major metro area. You might imagine a car used to commute leaving suburb A at 6:00am to arrive downtown at 7:00 might be recycled back to carry someone leaving downtown at 7:30 am out to an office in suburb B at 8:30. But then it will need to deadhead back downtown for the outbound evening commute. And it the distance from suburb A to B might preclude its re-use for the B to downtown commute. If there are enough robotaxis to give riders the temporal flexibilitg one gets from owning your own car, there’ll be a lot of them just sitting around, and a lot of them traveling empty anc clogging the roads between dropoffs and pickups.

        • Jeremy Wolff says:

          Congestion tax can handle this. Parking costs as well. Also, surge charge is what uber does to get people to take non-peak trips and it helps. There is a solution to make it expensive to drive an empty car and park it.

      • phillip jeffreys says:

        Just thinkin out loud: so what’s to prevent anyone from building their own AV (one can build small jets; AVs will be be doable especially as parts inventories accumulate) and unleashing it on public streets?

        • Paul from NC says:

          We both know that commandeering one of the Waymos or Cruise vehicles will be *waaaay* easier and with less personal risk involved. But for sure people are already playing with AI/self-drive DIY on their vehicles.

    • NBay says:

      Yeah, that IS an angle I hadn’t thought of….REAL high fees for those who don’t want to ride with the riff raff, have cars, but are really sick of the difficulty of driving in the city.

      As long as they don’t kill or hurt badly riders (very easy to guarantee at those speeds) is good enough.

      It’s a form of gentrifying transport.

      • 91B20 1stCav (AUS) says:

        NBay – have believed if you occupy, or aspire to a certain class in our society, a mighty effort to return the country to the Gilded Age has raged since the New Deal…

        may we all find a better day.

        • NBay says:

          Absolutely! Was watching a panel discussion and the Prez of the Heritage Foundation was there. Even when less extreme but very conservative solutions were offered (several times), he always SMILED and said, “Nope, I still want it drowned.” (Referring to the “shrink government till you can drown it in a bathtub” saying)
          The weird part is, I think the hippie movement (which I was/am part of (just less consuming and free fun, using less, wasting less, etc) really made them speed up the plan as the Heritage Foundation was formed around 1970, I think. They HATE the idea of democracy. The government is for national defense and protection of corporate interests ONLY.
          I just wonder how they intend to throw a lot of us off the spaceship….they KNOW they have to. (Was just now thinking about those “Masters of the Universe” at the Titanic dinner scene.) But as long as getting richer buys more control without restrictions, none of them will ever stop.
          As I’ve said before, I’m glad I made it to old age. Most all in my income bracket and even well above WON’T, if these sick creatures win. Stinking tenements and 7 cent flophouses, and Manshions……horse and sparrow….Gilded Age……NO Roosevelts, NO empathy. This is just an answer but probably won’t get posted. Take care dustoff.

        • 91B20 1stCav (AUS) says:

          NBay – think I’ll start saying: ‘CORPORATE Heritage Foundation’…

          may we all find a better day.

        • NBay says:

          Yeah. I don’t know whether to call a corporation a fascist organization or a communist one.
          They play exactly the same political games to rise to the top levels as the leaders of the politburo do.

          Xi is a CEO……so was El Chapo, for what it’s worth.

  5. ZagrebZagreb says:

    Will the inevitable taxi operated by Microsoft only drive on Microsoft roads? Will it use Bing to find your address? Will it randomly lock your 90 year-old mom out and then not allow a text verification code because she still has a LAN line?

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Press: Ctrl + Alt + Delete to restart the car and let your 90-year old mom in.

    • Carlos says:

      Some German PhDs just jailbroke the Tesla by hacking the supposedly secure inner processor, in a way that cannot be overturned with a remote software patch, using hobbyist hardware. So…free heated seats and ludicrous mode upgrades for all.

      I’m sure the big corporate plan to control the future will go equally well.

      • Jack says:

        Interesting. Did they say whether this hack allow for normal updates to continue to occur?

        • Not Sure says:

          Most cars that exist and that have ever existed go through their entire life cycle without a software update of any kind. I’d be happy to give up (usually unwanted) updates to my devices that make them better. And by better, I mean usually replacing features I like with worse features and making my device slower and more buggy.

          The minute I heard that companies like Tesla and BMW would charge for software updates to unlock already existing features (especially BMW with their subscription model), I figured a cottage industry of companies hacking your car to unlock those features for cheaper would pop up pretty quickly. This has already existed in the tuning community for a couple decades. Not everybody wants more horsepower through ECU tuning, but LOTs of people might want their heated seats enabled for cheaper than the manufacturer charges… We could see a bustling aftermarket industry that grows on that model.

      • Duke says:

        Engenext chipped and unlocked Tesla features years ago.
        The new hack just uses a different method.
        They even crowd source update compatibility.

      • Kurtismayfield says:

        Forget the Tesla, some PhD student demonstrated how easy it was to hack into satellites and get to their guidance system. Apparently no one was using encryption with them for a very long time.

  6. Frank says:

    I am all for it, but in the, considering the less than stellar law enforcement in SF, once the criminal crowd find out that these cars freeze in place if you step in front of them, they will have a field day thieving from ride customers, food/stuff being delivered, etc. Or what the heck, I’ll just step out in the roadway and stop traffic because I can….
    Maybe a more law abiding city would be a better place to prove the concept.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      A good human driver will try to stop too if you step in front of the car. No difference. Meanwhile, you risk your life. These kinds of BS objections are just astoundingly silly.

      And try to steal or carjack a robotaxi ❤🤣

    • Arnold says:

      Nobody carries cash these days, so I am not too sure what a thief would get from stopping an automated car with passengers?

      Would a thief make everyone Venmo him money?

      • Neil says:

        If that were true, I don’t think car-jacking would be as prevalent as it currently is.

      • Flea says:

        Not true at all probably got $210 in wallet

        • bulfinch says:

          Yeah, but you’re a Luddite.


        • Dave says:

          I’m a millionaire got over a million Indonesian rupee in my wallet

        • Jack says:

          Wow. Carrying cash is so 1990s. Physical wallets are so 2010s.

          Who carries a physical wallet these days with apple pay and apple wallet.

          Robo taxi will now finally eliminate the need to carry that stupid key fob.

        • VintageVNvet says:

          This for Jack:
          As a ”neo-Luddite” to some extent, and having not only been around a long time, but fairly long miles, etc., I am looking forward to and have formerly invested in both ”fingerprint” payments systems and eyeball access and payment machines.
          Everything else is clumsy for sure, as in having to carry another thingy, and also more easily stolen, etc.
          Won’t be long now, and not only will you own nothing, you really won’t NEED to own anything but the clothes you have on at the moment, and those will be available to change and recycle at the least whim, etc.

        • Anthony A. says:

          Hey Jack, not everyone is tied to the hip of Apple. Only the folks that want to pay up for the honor of showing off the logo to their friends.

    • Brandon says:

      You can disable them by sticking a traffic cone on the hood. There is a video of people calling themselves ‘Safe Street Rebels’ doing that. The video is a month old so maybe they found a fix for it.

    • Seba says:

      The more challenging the environment the more kinks will get worked out by the time we get robotaxis in my area. The only “proof of concept” I want to see now is how these handle snow and ice, but that won’t be in SF.

      • Beian says:

        They will handle snow and ice 1000x better than humans because they’ll know how. Even living in Canada with people having driven in those conditions all their lives, they instinctively do good-weather driving responses to things when the weather is bad and lose control of their vehicles. Traffic stats are worst with the first snowfall of the season. Robots won’t have that problem.

        Visibility IS an issue but that’ll be solved. It wouldn’t surprise me to see RFID chips embedded in the roads when the lines are painted. Then snow covering the road would be irrelevant.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          “Snow and ice….Visibility IS an issue but that’ll be solved.”

          Yes, but… AV tech is already a heck of a lot better than humans in terms of visibility. In a snowstorm, human drivers see very little. Similar in heavy rain. At night, under those conditions, they are essentially blind. Human blindness in bad weather and at night is part of the problem with human drivers.

    • Sams says:

      Now, sure the operator can not make their own database with the criminals? A little face recognition and the trap is quickly set for the criminal. If they criminal by acident try to hijack the bait car the criminal may be in for an unvanted ride…

    • JimL says:

      Lol it is obvious that you get your information from bad sources that take advantage of your ignorance rather inform you when you say things like “maybe a more law abiding city”.

      Ask Wolf if he is safer in SF or Tulsa.

  7. All Good Here Mate says:

    I think this is awesome, personally.

    Even better that it’s on the other side of the country from me where it can be perfected after mayhem and then make its way here in a few years.

  8. Phoenix_Ikki says:

    Paging Tesla…Paging Musk….SF gave you the greenlight to unleash your fleet of Robotaxi…after all, it would be insane to own anything other than Tesla if it’s suppose to make you $30K a year running it as Robotaxi according to the man himself..

    Cybertrunk as Robotaxi….now that’s an idea for you

  9. Phoenix_Ikki says:

    “Human drivers do stupid things all the time, from donuts in intersections to going down embankments. They injure and kill pedestrians, bicyclists, and each other and their passengers. And they constantly get into minor accidents that no one even tracks”

    Ain’t this the truth, just one drive down here in SoCal on the 405, you’ll be amazed at how many dumba$$ do not know you’re not supposed to go 55mph on the fast lane

    • Nissanfan says:

      Because Americans don’t get taught about driving ethics and passing lanes. Tourists pull this same crap on German Autobahns.

      In US, a highway could have 20 lanes each direction and there would still be traffic. It seems like everybody wants to have his/hers own lane to drive in doing exact same speed…

      • Phoenix_Ikki says:

        Yup you’re right. The caliber of German drivers and the test they have to go through to get a license is like night and day difference compare to requirements here.

        Maybe I am also pessimistic about our culture but I think the whole squatting on the fast lane or take up whatever lane you want at any speed speaks volume of how Americans tends to kick consideration to the backseat and fully embrace the I got mine so F you mentality because even if majority do lack proper driving training, at some point if you’re not so self absorbed, you’ll realize you’re holding up 10 people behind you while all other cars are zipping by..

        Another thing hopefully self driving or Robotaxi can fix is the stupidity of drivers around here, slamming their brakes or slowing down like their car will tip off over like those Ford Explorer with Firestone tires whenever there’s a gentle curve on the freeway, there’s one section of 405 near Carson you’ll withness that in action everyday…

        • El Katz says:

          Germany also has the TUF inspections….. half the junk on American roads couldn’t get licensed in Germany.

          If you want a laugh, do a search for “just rolled in”.

        • 91B20 1stCav (AUS) says:

          …wonder at the percentage of ‘Muricans who view posted speed limits as the law vs. advisory only (whether exceeding them OR draggin’ tail…).

          may we all find a better day.

      • Seba says:

        No different in Canada, but aside from poor and non compulsory driver education and low requirements for licensing there’s also the problem of poor enforcement. In 2015 British Columbia passed into law a requirement to leave the “passing lane” when not passing on roads 80km/h or faster, never heard of a ticket issued in all that time. Most likely the odds of drivers being able to fight such ticket in court here means cops don’t bother, whereas in Europe you’re not fighting anything, it’s all on dashcam and you pay. So as far as most drivers in BC are concerned, that law doesn’t even exist.

        I’m looking forward to self driving tech for that reason, I’m one of those people who enjoys driving and I’m hoping these vehicles will be programmed to drive courteously. My only concern would be that car ownership becomes more expensive when a sizeable chunk of the population gets rid of their personal vehicles all together, but that’s still some time away. Both US and Canada are vast countries with public transit reaching only certain areas, so I don’t think it’s going to be a quick transition.

    • Ltlftc says:

      In some states, it’s actually against traffic code to drive in the left lane with traffic behind you, if moving to the right is possible; not just good manners.


    • Imposter says:

      Who sets the standards, does the tests, and grants driver’s licenses to people who have no clue about lane usage, or much else for that matter, and who gaze at their smart phones instead of driving?

      Another “I’m from the Government and I’m here to help”.

      Licenses should be hard to get. Can you imagine if a pilot’s license were as easy to get as a driver’s license? We’d all be in peril from both the roads and from the skies.

      • 91B20 1stCav (AUS) says:

        Imp – your state’s representatives are but a (okay, probably more than one and an email, or, even better, an actual letter to show you’re serious) call away (especially if you get your friends and neighbors to join with you. PITA? Yes. No? TANSTAAFL).

        may we all find a better day.

  10. A A Ron says:

    I can’t wait to see what the “unhoused” come up with for these

  11. Beg4mercy says:

    I can’t find any stories about robotaxis being hijacked — whut up with that?

  12. A Shopping Cart of Bond Vigilantes says:

    My friend works fairly high-up at Cruise. I wrote to him about the SF First Responder criticisms as they seemed relevant. He responded that they have since added a feature to allow emergency personal to take control of a vehicle on the spot, so I’m not sure all of the issues will persist.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      They clearly have got to work out a deal with first responders, in a way that doesn’t allow others to tell the cars what to do.

      • danf51 says:

        The government answer will be to provide a code, available to “authorities”, that orders all AV’s to pull over and stop. Optionally, they will also lock you in and there will also be an option to have your car drive directly to a police station.

        I do think it’s true that our current car culture is unsustainable, but the entire answer is not just robot cars and “shared ownership”. The answer will be a complete redesign of cities. Of course that will take decades, perhaps generations to implement.

        If demographic collapse is the thing that the arithmetic says, it will be interesting to see what the impact is on cities, and mass consumer economics in general.

        In the meantime, just don’t force your enthusiasm on me. This will be great for urban areas and as long as it stays there, I’m happy for you.

        Everyone throws the safety argument out there and it may even be real (but not decisive in my hierarchy of values), but if I throw in the argument about loss of autonomy or the ability of government or a corporation to lock you down – for any reason, will you just poo-poo that ?

        As an aside, do you ever watch Mentour Pilot on youtube. Its a show that goes through airline crashes. Very interesting. It’s pretty interesting how many times the accident is a conflict between cockpit automation, pilots and an unlikely convergence of events.

        Thats not to say flying is not safer with all the automation but it’s not without sometimes fatal consequences.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          “Thats not to say flying is not safer with all the automation but it’s not without sometimes fatal consequences.”

          My parents died in a Boeing 727 in 1976 in Turkey. It was ascribed to human fuckups. The human fuckups — not just one — are described in Wikipedia:

          “Turkish Airlines Flight 452 was a scheduled domestic passenger flight operated by a Boeing 727-2F2 of Turkish Airlines that crashed near Isparta on 19 September 1976 while en route from Istanbul Atatürk Airport (IST/LTBA) to Antalya Airport (AYT/LTAI), killing all 144 passengers and 11 crew members on board. The crash is the deadliest aviation accident in Turkey’s history.

          “The aircraft arrived in Istanbul from Italy and took off again at 22:45 local time. The pilots started descending towards Antalya at 23:11 with the captain in the passenger cabin. The plane crashed at around 23:20 into the Karatepe Hill near Isparta, about 100 kilometres (62 mi; 54 nmi) from the destination, after the first officer mistook the city lights of Isparta for the runway of Antalya Airport, despite warnings from the controller at Antalya.”

          “The experts inspecting the recordings later announced that the pilots were trying to fly visually, instead of instrumental flight, which was required at night, and that they mistook the dark area ahead of them—the Western Taurus Mountains—for the Mediterranean Sea[14] and the city lights of Isparta for those of Antalya.[6] It was also revealed that the distance measuring equipment of Antalya Airport broke three days before the crash.”

          “According to eyewitnesses, the bodies of victims were badly burned, making identification impossible.”

          My parents’ remains were identified by the inscriptions on their wedding bands (my sister still has them).

          Automation eliminates human fuckups. Humans on average are terrible at a lot of stuff.

        • danf51 says:

          I’m replying to your response to my post. I am very sorry for the loss of your parents.

          In 1976 there was not nearly the amount of automation in the cockpit as today and most accidents were down to pilot error.

          Cockpit automation has made flying safer especially in large commercial airliners. I don’t dispute that. But accidents do continue to happen. Today many (perhaps most – I dont have the stats) are caused by conflicts between flight crew and automation.

          The recent 737 Max disasters are classic examples where flight crews did not understand the automation nor some of it’s design flaws and fought against it without even realizing or even making the attempt to turn it off (the first item on the checklist).

          It’s interesting to talk to Airline pilots from about this subject and ask them if they see a generational difference between older pilots and younger.

        • JeffD says:

          Thanks for sharing that, as it emphasizes the importance of this issue as discussed in your article.

          “Humans on average are terrible at a lot of stuff.”

          Couldn’t agree more. I retired 15 years earlier than most people because I was tired of cleaning up after colleagues careless mistakes.

          “Automation eliminates human fuckups.”

          For a toaster or a drill press on an assembly line — absolutely. For complex systems, not usually. Software is just an incomplete set of algorithms written by people more intersted in taking lunch breaks than meeting stringent requirements. The more lines of code, the more shaky the system is as a whole. Also, unlike human minds, software doesn’t allow for unconstrained introspection which allows for future improvement.

          I’m genuinely sorry to hear about the loss of your parents at such a young age, as I am sure all your devoted readers are who caught this comment.

  13. William Leake says:

    I read people are placing orange traffic cones on Waymo and Cruise autonomous cars, which disables and forces them to stop. Interesting hack.

    I hope the driverless cars work out, but I am glad they are not now in my neighborhood. I would gladly give up the expense and hassle and insurance of owning my own car if I could get one of these robots to give me a ride any time I wanted, without having to wait too long for it to arrive, and without increasing my risk of being in an accident. I’ll wait and see what happens in SF.

    • Ltlftc says:

      You mean like uber and lyft?

      • danf51 says:

        My nephew is a big fan of Uber. He never learned to drive so it’s always Uber or bumming a ride of others. Uber is great, but I do remind myself that every uber ride I take, I’m consuming someone’s capital.

    • VintageVNvet says:

      Agree totally with your hope WL!!
      Just got the latest auto insurance bill with approx. 25% increase, and that’s with no tickets 10+ years, no accidents ever, and all the other available discounts.
      Discussed with the better half that I would prefer to have just the one vehicle, but need the 20+ y.o. pick up truck when nothing else will do, and of course keep the most cost efficient smaller vehicle now approaching 15 y.o., but running very well after refresh at 100K miles and appears to be good for another 100K or so.

      • Anthony A. says:

        Sell the pick up, rent one if you need one.

      • JeffD says:

        My latest insurance bill dropped by $100, even here in California. $358 for six months to cover an Acura RDX and a Corolla, both with collision and comprehensive coverage at a $500 deductible. Ask your insurer about a milage based plan for the pick up if you don’t drive it much annualy.

    • phillip jeffreys says:

      Sooooo…let’s say one lives in a hurricane prone region – urban area or not. Gonna rely on a business service, or worse gov’t service, to get you and family out of the city on demand? Cramtrack?!

      • Anthony A. says:

        I could just see the masses in South Florida being evacuated from an incoming hurricane in fleets of EV self-driving cars running out of juice in the traffic jams. Yeah, I know, everyone will just leave early.

        • phillip jeffreys says:


          Business, of course, will never scale to a level needed to support such an evacuation.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          People running out of gas or not even being able to get gas while evacuating because gas stations are already sold out happens all the time. With an EV, you top it off every night at your home by plugging it in, DUH, and when you need to go somewhere it’s ready to go, and it will get you out of range of the hurricane. But you have to fabricate this stupid BS why EVs are worse than ICE vehicles? To fool whom exactly? Yourself? This dumb BS is just embarrassing these days.

        • rick m says:

          If you don’t live in hurricane country and you’ve never run from a storm… some gas stations close when they run dry but some stay open and switch to generator power when the grid goes. People who need to get gas line up on the road into the station and often push their cars as the line moves.
          After the storm, you drive to wherever the storm didn’t go for food, gas, and cell service, then you drive back to your dark house and wait for the power company trucks. Or run the generator and invite the neighbors and cook everything in the freezer if it’s a bad storm.
          Many people run to higher ground friends’ houses several miles inland. I could see an EV and power wall setup being useful as long as it lasts. But when gas runs low in the generator you drive upstate until you find some.
          No doubt that the local infrastructures will eventually support EVs as a prudent means of evacuation. But not this storm season, or next. Uninformed and unrealistic people are often weather casualties.
          It’s easier to talk optimistically about developing technology in cars when you personally don’t need or want to own one except as a proof of concept. Most of us have places that we must go
          economically. You own and operate what you can afford. Lots of shiny stuff is unaffordable to we proles.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          What you folks don’t get is that, as you plug in your EV every night to top it off, it’s nearly always charged, and you can drive outside the range of the hurricane, no problem. Whereas your ICE vehicle only has a full tank after you go to the gas station and fill it up.

          And if you stay, with more and more EV models, you can power your house from the battery. No need for a generator, LOL. Don’t splurge on AC and you have five-plus days of power.

          EVs are already ideal in dealing with hurricanes. So yeah, when they flood, they’re just as ruined as when an ICE vehicle floods.

        • Publius says:

          What if the hurricane doesn’t arrive early in the morning when the battery is fully charged? That would be rude of the hurricane, but they’re not known for their good manners.

        • phillip jeffreys says:

          It’s not dumb BS.

          It’s a risk decision. Not everyone shares your risk tolerance.

          I have worked cybersecurity at some interesting places. One thing is almost certain – the realm of the possible far exceeds what one might imagine. And there are use cases where AVs are not the best solution.

          Again, the issue isn’t fear of technology (tech has always delivered …yuk…yuk). It’s also not preventing others from adopting a technology they are comfortable with. It’s thinking out of the box to support good decisions that matters to me. That’s how I “roll”.

          If life improves for those in the “big” city through AV use – go for it! That’s your life. The one you want to live. I could give a rat’s patoot about normative considerations such as “what’s better” – better for whom? That argument inevitably descends into the no man’s land/religion of defining “better”. I harbor no enmity nor contempt for those who prefer AVs – it feels silly to me to even engage in that kind of thinking. There are variables in my decision calculus and life that lead me to think AV is not for me – particularly loss of control.

    • Sams says:

      Each hack may work a few times. Then the hack is in the database and get recognized and dealt with.

  14. Harrold says:

    So they just ignored the issue with first responders. What kind of a decision was this? Another gov’t agency putting large corporate profits ahead of regular people. This is disgusting.

    What else aren’t we hearing about? How about the numerous tesla drivers showing their autopilot making illegal or dangerous moves every block or two. I will say I knew this was coming because gov’t is so corrupt. The technology won’t really be ready for another 20 years.

    Go ahead and flame me, wolf.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      “So they just ignored the issue with first responders.”

      No they didn’t. And a deal is going to get worked out.

      “How about the numerous tesla drivers showing their autopilot making illegal or dangerous…”

      Tesla doesn’t have AV technology. Tesla has driver-assist tech that it wrongly sold as Full Self Driving (“FSD”). Tesla needs to get in trouble for this. I have no idea why it hasn’t yet.

      • KPL says:

        “I have no idea why it hasn’t yet.”

        Is it possible it is because enforcement of law is lax or stock market may get into trouble if Tesla gets into trouble?

      • Who Cares says:

        They are not in trouble since they are not selling FSD.
        What people can buy is an option to get FSD for their Tesla if it is finally in a state that it can legally be used on the road.
        Just a big a scam but legal since the buyer knows that it is unknown when that happens.

  15. Hubberts Curve says:

    What I like is that the robotaxis have to scrupulously follow the rule of the road. As a cyclist this is great because I can use a robot taxi as a kind of escort. Find a busy road you want to ride on, look for a robotaxi and then get out in front of them and ride down the middle of the road ( which is legal) and the robot taxi has to follow behind you keeping the required distance like an obedient pooch.

    • Ltlftc says:

      The beauty if this post, is that you slowed us down from reading things with more substance.

    • Who Cares says:

      As a fellow cyclist I’m damn happy you are on a different continent. That kind of fuck you asshole behavior only encourages car drivers to be even bigger assholes.
      Yes I know how a lot of car drivers in the US see bikers but you just allowed that one that forces you of the road without a second thought an excuse as to why he is justified in doing so.

      • Sam says:

        One of the most self absorbed groups of people on the planet (maybe the most selfish arrogant group) are cyclists in San Francisco.

    • El Katz says:

      Until someone cuts around your guardian robotaxi and knocks you off your bike with a bat (or bumper) for being a self-absorbed jerk.

  16. Tony says:

    All sounds good until mass adoption. Some locales w/ law abiding citizenry will appreciate this new convenience, enabling some households to drop down to 1 vehicle vs 2, 3 or 4. But just like subways, maybe they need to establish some ground rules NOW to ensure certain offenses would not be tolerated and service can be refused for certain undesirables (smoking dope, drinking alcohol, fornicating inside the robot axis). Then there’s the leeches who turn these into commercial enterprises like excessive cargo transport (wearing out the vehicle in short order), drug running, etc…

    • NYguy says:

      Yep, the miscreants will love this. The question becomes – are there enough good people that will spend their money and use these robotaxis to overcome the losses from the damage the hood goblins will do. If not, these companies wont survive and it will just be another footnote to the story of a collapsing empire.

      SF? LMAO. My money is on the goblins.

      • Wolf Richter says:

        The video went viral, and that was it. The hood goblins are already finished. That stuff stopped. It was just a stunt to make a viral video. And you fell for it. Lots of viral videos are purpose-built to go viral. The internet is a strange place.

  17. William Smith says:

    I am reminded of “I Robot” where robots infiltrate everywhere, then they are programmed to be evil and lock everyone in their homes. So when everyone has gotten rid of their cars a hacker or authoritarian govt can do some really evil stuff. They can shut them all down (if they want to impose another “lockdown”) or they can have the things crash into people as a depopulation tool. Sorry, but I’m not fond of giving the govt yet more control through technology. Never give up rights you have or you never get them back. “You can vote your way into communism, but you have to fight your way out.”

    • NBay says:

      The evil power in I Robot was a greedy corporation…..the government agent risked his job to save the day.
      But it was just a movie someone in another big corporation decided would sell.
      We need more unions…..a couple seats on the board of directors, and both Roosevelt’s ideas about corporate law re-instituted.
      You won’t like the likely coming Gilded Age Redux….honest.

  18. Xavier Caveat says:

    I was driving behind what I thought was an automated car as I couldn’t see a body in the drivers seat, and then when I got closer it was an elderly tiny lady who probably barely reached the pedals, an elf-driving car if you will.

  19. michael earussi says:

    In the long run this will have the biggest effect on car companies as most of the people who live in cities will no longer have any reason to own cars.

    • JeffD says:

      Many people who live in cities already don’t have a reason to own a car. If you amortize out the cost of cars at today’s prices + parking + gas + insurance + maintenance, then factor in Work From Home, it probably makes more economic sense to use electric bike + public transportation (including taxis) and an occasional rental car for long trips.

    • The Liberty Advocate says:

      Right. People that live in cities never have a reason to leave the city. Also, people would much rather rely on a service instead of just having their own vehicle.

  20. San Francisco Native Son says:

    I live in the Excelsior District of San Francisco and I see these “headless” cars driving around my hood everyday and night.

    No big deal anymore.

    I can’t wait to ride in one!

  21. Harvey Mushman says:

    “Human drivers do stupid things all the time, from donuts in intersections to going down embankments. They injure and kill pedestrians, bicyclists, and each other and their passengers. And they constantly get into minor accidents that no one even tracks”

    I must confess, from age 17 to 22 I drove like an idiot. I often think how lucky I was to not hurt anybody or myself.

    • NBay says:

      Make that 14 to 18 in my case. Then I had to pay for my own maintenance.
      The car stuff slowed to almost where it is now, but there was always BIKES!
      Dirt mostly, but also some INSANE Sunday morning rides. But I learned both in the dirt where everything is exaggerated, for which I’m grateful.
      I’m still VERY lucky I’m alive after the life I lived up to 36 or so.

  22. Debt-Free-Bubba says:

    Howdy Folks. Very Interesting. Going to go listen to John Denver records now. Thank god I m a country boy…

  23. Bs ini says:

    Don’t have to look forward to the day that these vehicles are implemented because this week they were. Music to my ears I want an autonomous vehicle today ! Just not EV yet until the remote charging stations are available. Too many long distance trips to remote areas in arkansas east Texas and se OK

  24. John Apostolatos says:

    “Human drivers do stupid things all the time, from donuts in intersections to going down embankments. They injure and kill pedestrians, bicyclists, and each other and their passengers. And they constantly get into minor accidents that no one even tracks.”

    I would like a RoboFedchairman with no emotion and no fear of politicians and the stock market, one who would be be immune to the dangers and stupidities mentioned above.

    Back to Wolf’s point:
    1. Once I almost got into a crash because the taxi driver was constantly checking out women walking in shorts.
    2. I have gotten yelled at for asking for a receipt.
    3 If you have an accent they often ask: “So, where are you from?” (Anyone with an accent on this site take note.)
    4. Sometimes I want to ask: “When was the last time you took a shower?”
    5. And, unlike robotaxis, humans slow down deliberately and take the longest route.

  25. OutWest says:

    “They’re generally well-behaved. They smoothly roll up to a stop sign, come to a complete stop, stay there for a couple of seconds, and then softly accelerate away. They stop when the light turns yellow and don’t floor the accelerator to get through the intersection on dark-yellow or whatever. And they don’t do donuts in intersections.”

    Such a perfect description! Something that few of my neighbors could pull off, even on a lazy Sunday drive.

    • NBay says:

      Isn’t failure to live a sign or a light for two seconds grounds to get the blasting horns?
      I guess it won’t happen with these, no fun to piss off a computer when you are all strung out, as almost everyone in this sick culture is all the time……sad.

  26. Bobber says:

    A key issue might be impatience. Consider today’s bearded and impatient F350 dually driver with a pronounced middle finger. If he cannot let out steam by flooring the gas peddle after every stop light, will he have a nervous breakdown in the back of the auto-taxi?

    • tom10 says:

      I’m the beardless F350 driver hauling equipment. I have no time to work out my middle finger. When you are one of the few drivers who is not staring at their phone, there is no ..” flooring the gas peddle”.

  27. R2D2 says:

    Taxis today only account for a tiny 5% of all vehicle miles travelled per year in the Western world, so the addressable taxi market (ATM) here for these firms is actually fairly small.

    I suspect the US and European autonomous-taxi industries thru 2035 are going to suck in billions of dollars of investor cash, and spit out tens of billions of dollars of losses.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      1. 5% of all vehicle miles travelled … that includes trucks and highway travel. Urban transport is dense low-miles and high-cost driving. It’s a bigger portion of that.

      2. The addressable market isn’t just taxis. You missed the point. That’s just the first step. The addressable market is me, and I don’t take taxies, LOL. I want to get rid of the hassles and costs of owning a vehicle. That’s what all this is about. GM isn’t going after the taxi business. It’s an automaker that is going for an alternate to the vehicle-ownership model. It’s going for a subscription model, vehicle as a service.

      • rick m says:

        “I want to get rid of the hassles and costs of owning a vehicle. That’s what all this is about” Exactly.
        Not everyone does, or would if they could.
        And AV’s “just being better than human drivers ” as an acceptable standard of conformance to vehicular traffic safety seems shortsighted.
        Like EV charging infrastructure, this will pencil out in densely populated, prosperous areas long before it filters down to the proles. Maybe most of the bugs will be worked out by then too.
        There’s a difference between fallible human drivers making on-the-spot bad calls that result in accidents with other fallible humans and a machine that causes an “accident” because the technology is developing and isn’t foolproof.
        Auto insurance rates are primarily based on driving records of the individual driver. Doesn’t driverless mean no-fault? Unless the insurer is evaluating the “driving record” of software.

        • Sams says:

          I would guess the insurance company would look at the fleet of one customer and evaluate the accident record. Probably broken down on vehicle type and software installed.

          Then the insurance company would come up with a probability number on accidents, severity of accidents and a rate for insurance.

    • Tom S. says:

      I think the market is small because there is a limit in the trust that families are going to give the car companies. Right off the bat there’s a sizable percentage of people are never going to entertain the idea of putting their children into a driverless car.

      There’s a couple other points to make. Car companies are going to have to make a driverless car that can operate with humans in the grid. There is absolutely no chance we go fully automated highways in America. Second point is that, just because there is a better way out there, doesn’t mean people will change. Look at the roads in old European cities, many are best traveled on bicycle. That’s how they were built, that’s how they will stay.

  28. EconMoonlighter says:

    “Cruise and Waymo are now replacing the cost of drivers with other costs, including the much higher costs of the vehicles and the much higher costs of the people who are building, expanding, and maintaining the technology.“

    My day job is Software Engineering to automate manual tasks. It’s amazing how many companies say “we will automate XYZ task and save a bunch of money”, who then proceed to spend 100x the yearly budget for their staff that’s being automated. The opportunity costs for a payoff starting in 100 years has to be super high.

    • phillip jeffreys says:

      Excellent point!

      Imagine the fun dealing with software updates/patches for large, heterogeneous (multiple OEMs/OSs) fleets! It’s a royal pain-in-the posterior for large data centers – not the upgrade, but the patch update/release cycle itself.

      Suppose there is what military aviation calls a redball – safety issue, ground the fleet until fixed.

  29. Xavier Caveat says:

    If your robotaxi gets into an accident with another robotaxi, whose fault is it?

  30. JeffD says:

    “And there are practical reasons to ramp-up gradually in a city … as it’s transitioning to a new form of mobility.”

    Translation from CEO-speak — the cars still aren’t up to snuff for San Francisco driving. In fairness though, San Francisco has got to be one of the toughest cities, especially with an event like a marathon being held.

    • JeffD says:

      PS I’m going to wager that the reason Cruise runs 100 cars during the day and 300 during the night is the limited pool of remote operators for when the cars “get stuck”. At night, cars are less likely to “get stuck”, so more cars can run. In the daytime there is construction, double parking, confused tourists, or sketchy rush hour driving, all of which likely cause problems for these vehicles.

      • Wolf Richter says:

        No, you missed that part of it in the article. The reason is that Cruise was not allowed to charge for its rides during the day and had to provide them for free. It was only allowed to charge for the rides at night. So it ran more cars at night because it got paid for them.

  31. I'llBeBack says:

    Go watch the Johnny Cab scene from the movie, Total Recall. This was 1990 and 33 years later, here we are. I love how sick, sick nerds think.

  32. kramartini says:

    There will be a lot of robotaxis idle during off peak hours.

    During peak hours there will be a lot of carpooling with strangers.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Yes, it’s like Starbucks. If you don’t want one, they’re everywhere. But if you need one for your caffeine fix, they’re nowhere.

      And it’s like back in the old days before Uber, when we lived in Manhattan, we discovered a peculiar phenomenon: those gazillion yellow cabs evaporate when it’s raining.

      Or when a business is flush with cash, everyone wants to lend it money; but when it’s out of cash, the lenders evaporate.

      There are a lot of things like that in life.

      • kramartini says:

        Robotaxis will not eliminate the problem of idle vehicles. But a reservation and scheduling system that can fill vehicles with people going almost to the same place might mitigate the problem.

        • Ltlftc says:

          You mean a bus?

          All jokes aside Uber/Lyft already do this. The issue is that just because someone chose a shared ride to save a dollar or two, doesn’t make them happy when a second/third passenger is added. The better the algo is programmed, the less likely people will use it.

          There is also passenger safety to consider with shared rides, even more so when there is no driver.

  33. Debt-Free-Bubba says:

    Howdy Folks. Was wondering about the other ways city folk use to get around??? That 2 wheeled electric thingy (Segway) or electric bikes at different locations?? Did those things catch on and still around??

    A Curious Country Boy would like to know….

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Lots of people are riding regular bicycles and ebikes in San Francisco. ebikes are popular with folks that would not normally ride a bicycle; so that’s a conversion from some other means of transportation, which is good.

    • Hubberts Curve says:

      E bikes are very popular but the Segway is officially a total bust. I was there ( a high school robotics tournament in Seattle) when Dean Kamen first unveiled the Segway to the world. According to him, it was going to revolutionize transportation. As the hype wore off it turned out that it was only really worthwhile for Mall Cops and Segway tours for tourists. It didn’t turn out to have any real utility other than that. I think Robotaxis will turn out the same way. They will be useful in some places and for certain purposes but not in others.

      • Debt-Free-Bubba says:

        Howdy and thanks. Flying cars should be next? I will have to visit a BIG city again before I die. Hopefully an American will create the next life changing great invention or new idea.

        • dougzero says:

          There is a segway based or styled wheelchair made in europe. Expensive and can climb stairs which is often a big obstacle. The chair suspended on two wheels mostly and there is a track under that can be deployed for stairs. I have only watched videos and have not seen one in person.

  34. Beg4mercy says:

    We’re at that preposterous stage of early tech, when automated vehicles are monstrous and hideous. The Jetson’s flying car, folded into a nice briefcase. Wake me when these things actually work out.

    I’m old enough to remember prototype wireless pads, essentially fake mock-ups that predated iPhones and various pager-like innovations. I was interested in wireless concepts and was attracted to a Dotcom beauty called Sonicblue (SBLU).

    Gorgeous prototype, but it was fake Lol.

    I couldn’t much on it, but here’s a fun thing I found from 2001, which sort of speaks to the pace of technological advancement and an example of what can happen in ten or twenty years:

    “ Oh goody. Another over-priced MP3 player with too many bells and whistles. And a price that’s way higher than it should be.

    All I want is a decent MP3. I want one that supports some sort of smart media card, supports at least 128MB, and has USB. And most importantly, doesn’t cost $400! Is that too much to ask? The Diamond Rio 500 came closest to that, but of course it’s not made anymore (and cost too much anyway). Instead, SonicBlue produces the vastly inferior Rio 600 or the way over-priced 800. If I can buy a camcorder for $300, a freaking MP3 player oughta be under $100.

    I don’t need a built-in CD player (that’s why I have MP3’s fer crissakes!) I don’t need a built-in hard drive. I don’t need a goddamn built-in toaster oven. I just want a little MP3 player that holds more than 5 songs that I can stick in my pocket when I go for a walk. I certainly don’t need to put my entire MP3 collection on it all at once. ”

    • Jos Oskam says:

      I had the same problem.

      Got myself an old Motorola G4G phone for free, from the old days when phones were small. Removed all unnecessary apps and SIM from it. Installed free Musicolet app.

      Now I have an MP3 player that easily holds 2000 songs, 48hrs battery life, microSD card slot, headphone jack, bluetooth.

      And completely free.

      • eg says:

        Old phones have lots of uses around the house if you have the imagination and a little technical capability.

  35. Doctor_ECE_Prof says:

    One issue I guess not addressed by all the comments: Many folks use an auto for long distance travel like for vacation etc as that is the most economical form of transportation now. Of course, the carrying cost is there but may be fixed for them.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      If you do that one or twice a year, you’re better off renting a vehicle for those long trips. Put those 5,000 miles in two weeks on a rental vehicle, let them pay for the depreciation and maintenance, LOL.

      • RickV says:

        In addition to long distance/vacation travel, we use our ICE vehicle when we both need one for different errands two or three times a month, and our EV the rest of the time. Uber drivers are expensive.

      • El Katz says:

        The rental companies will catch onto that trend quickly… and the weekly rental costs will skyrocket accordingly. The result will likely be a net zero between year long ownership and your rental/robotaxi model.

        The government will also do it’s part. I recently rented a vehicle for 10 days…. the taxes on the rental car were more than the daily rental fee. Yes, it was at an airport… but the municipalities where there are small lots can easily follow.

        There ain’t no free lunch.

        • Anthony A. says:

          I rented an Enterprise car in 2019 to visit family in Connecticut and drove from Texas. I had the car for ten days, drove about 4,000 miles and the car rental fee was $280.00. I probably spent as much in fuel as the car averaged about 30 MPG. The car gave me flexibility that I wouldn’t have if I flew.

          Looking into prices today, that same car is renting $60 – $75/day without government taxes. Hotel charges are up considerably too. It’s still good to make these kind of trips, even with the inflation we have seen in the last 4 years.

  36. Phoenix_Ikki says:

    Because Wolf, as you always quoted, Musk walks on water, have you forgotten already? We love our false idol in this country, they also get quite a bit of legal free pass compare to commoners

  37. Michael Testa says:

    This type of article is why i really enjoy Wolf Street. Useful and interesting. Thamks.

  38. SocalJimObjects says:

    I don’t live in San Francisco, so this does not impact me in any way, just wanted to say that only people who don’t understand technology will say things like “it will get better”. That can only be true if the actual technologists know at all time why the computer is making a certain decision, but AI experts have said that there are too many times they have been blinded by systems they have built, so if you don’t understand what’s wrong in the first place, how can you improve it? It’s no different from digit/character recognition systems, the improvements seem incredible at the start, but in the end it’s been proven that there are limits to such systems as well.

    What will happen (if there’s still enough energy in the future) is that cities will change the built environment to accommodate these autonomous vehicles, thereby making driving for human beings easier in the process, otherwise it’s back to horse and carriages, and I bet on the later making a return long before these systems are fully rolled out in the US.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      1. “only people who don’t understand technology will say things like “it will get better””

      LOL. I have followed this for 10 years, and I tell you, they HAVE gotten better, a LOT better, no comparison from today’s AV tech to the AV tech 10 years ago. How can you state such nonsense with such fake confidence?

      2. Human drivers are terrible. They kill 40,000 people a year and injure millions. They run over animals all the time. They run over their own pets. They hit trees! I mean trees! Trees don’t jump into the street usually. They hit utility poles. AVs only have to be less terrible than humans. They don’t have to be perfect. You’re thinking they have to be perfect, but that’s nonsense. All they have to be is less terrible than human drivers.

      • Mytreds says:

        Sure but now every time you use a driverless car, the corporation will sell your data and movements to the govt and further control you.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          They already have ALL that data from your smartphone. Smartphones know everything, from where you’re going and who you’re going with (whose smartphone you’re sitting next to on the trip), to how fast you’re going, and if you stop by a church along the way to pray, and who you’re spending the night with. Google reads your emails. If you have an Android phone, Google and various app makers know everything about you. Your smartphone picks up everything. A car won’t know any more than that. It just duplicates that info.

        • El Katz says:

          The car already knows. That sharkfin on the roof communicates with the manufacturer. That’s how you get “over the air” updates… and how your satellite radio and navigation systems function. The “black box” can tell an accident investigator things like throttle position, braking effort (if any), steering angle, speed and a variety of other details that makes your BS story in an accident fall apart in a New York minute. Many cars already have cameras installed (look at the back of your rear view mirror) for the driver’s assist systems. Not sure if that has recording capability, but I wouldn’t doubt it.

  39. Natron says:

    Frankly, around here with all the horrendous drivers, automation would be very welcome – at least to me. Here’s hoping the tech continues to evolve well.

    Meanwhile with all the culture wars it’s amusing to discover San Fran has the local version of rednecks or highschoolers (or both) doing donuts in the intersections too. :)

    • Happy1 says:

      The donuts in the intersection thing is called a sideshow, invented in Oakland, the demographics of the participants are “urban youth”, not exactly “redneck”. They are unbelievably obnoxious loud and dangerous BTW as they typically take place late at night when most people are trying to sleep. There are similar weird phenomena of lawless morons riding ATVs on sidewalks weekend nights in Philly and NYC, people love a loud engine and a little police chasing at 1 AM.

  40. Publius says:

    Are the robotaxis navigating by road lines? Around here, every other road is under construction, many temporarily without center or end lines. And will they avoid giant potholes? Not the rider’s vehicle, so I guess it doesn’t matter other than perhaps a spilled drink.

  41. Beg4mercy says:

    2023 has definitely has experienced exponential growth in AI and robotics hype, but as with prior periods of innovation, the actual adoption and profitability of businesses takes many years.

    All these novel and cute, science fiction play toys have to integrate into ubiquitous user acceptance — and that takes many years. The pandemic did push people to accept a far higher degree of automation, but the age of automated city environments, is probably at least a decade away.

    I seriously doubt these robotic adventurers are any different than biotech or crypto-like cash burning research projects.

    Also see:

    “In October 2022, Amazon decided not to continue with its ARDR project. “During our limited field test for Amazon Scout, we worked to create a unique delivery experience, but learned through feedback that there were aspects of the program that weren’t meeting customers’ needs. As a result, we are ending our field tests and reorienting the program,” according to Amazon spokesperson Maya Vautier. Instead, Amazon will focus its efforts primarily on drone delivery.

    FedEx launched its delivery robot program, the FedEx Sameday Bot, in 2019, but the company decided to scale back its efforts in 2022 because the program did not yield short-term benefits.”

  42. longstreet says:

    How does an autonomous car deal with a traffic cop holding a STOP sign?

    • SoCalBeachDude says:

      DM: Five cops suing Tesla after self-driving car mows them over during traffic stop, sending them to the hospital

      According to an investigation by The Wall Street Journal the Model X had struck a police vehicle while traveling at 54 mph in Texas on February 27 2021.

      • Wolf Richter says:

        Tesla doesn’t have a “self-driving car.” That’s a braindead clickbait headline from braindead Daily Mail. The DM is a clickbait publication designed to appeal to morons. Tesla only has driving-assist technology, requiring the attention of a driver at all times.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      They got that figured out. Same with school busses and school crossing guards. That’s probably the very first thing they tried to 100% nail down years ago. They knew if one of their vehicles ran over five kids and a school crossing guard holding up a stop sign, the entire AV tech sector in the US would be dead for at least 20 years.

  43. Beg4mercy says:

    I’m always stimulated by related rabbit hole:

    “Repairs and improvements to the nation’s highways traditionally have been funded primarily through federal and state taxes collected at the pump. Because EVs do not require gasoline, they do not contribute to the upkeep of highways through the gas tax. ”

    With the pending ghost like recession potentially evolving, related to the narrative that cities will undergo unique tax burden shocks from WFH and commercial office implosion — the concept of more people buying into battery transportation, adds an interesting subset to how cities, states and Fed will need to increase taxes for charging infrastructure.

    I think there’s going to be various hidden costs in this new age of innovation (micro and macro). This explosion of AI robotics won’t be free and easy. This also reminds me of crypto mining, where states like Texas play games with energy subsidies. The buildout of infrastructure and maintenance costs will be fascinating.

    Probably nothing

    • Wolf Richter says:

      EV owners are being charged extra at the DMV to make up for the loss in gasoline taxes. That is already being done. Not rocket science. At the same time, EV owners are helping to fund the buildout and modernization of the grid because of their electricity purchases and fees associated with it. Utilities love them!

      • Beg4mercy says:

        Sony Betamax vs VHS vs CD vs streaming.

        It’s obviously necessary to build a modern infrastructure, but ultimately, that has to done in a way where the standards are totally universal, versus the current hybrid chaos.

        “ Tesla’s Superchargers in the U.S. use attachments incompatible with other electric vehicles. To qualify for the new subsidies, the company will need to equip some of its chargers with an alternative connector adopted by other manufacturers and promoted as a standard by the U.S. government”

        None of the EV companies should qualify for subsidies, unless they agree on standard universal technologies (imho).

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Seems like Tesla’s system is on the way to becoming the national standard. Several automakers are already switching over to it, and Tesla is opening up its charging network to other brands.

    • VintageVNvet says:

      States and municipalities considering charging vehicles by the mile is coming to YOU sooner AND later.
      Taxes, being the only thing other than death WE cannot avoid, eh?

  44. Hubberts Curve says:

    Do they play music in these robotaxi’s? Do you get to call out your choice of music, like with Siri? Or do you have to listen to robotically generated Muzak because of song license agreements?

  45. IanCad says:

    Must admit, I’ve been horrified over the prospect of robotic cars. After (for a change) reading pretty much all of the comments I have become a convert.
    How nice it would be to have a dummy chauffeur – cap and all – to tool around the English countryside.

    • Natron says:

      I’m really looking forward to telling my future car “Home James!” after a couple pints at the pub. :)

  46. Some Guy says:

    Thanks for the objective report Wolf, tough to get a level-headed report on anything these days.

    It will be interesting to see how it plays out. As someone who doesn’t drive a whole lot, the biggest personal benefit would just be having the cars on the road around me be more reliable from a behaviour/safety standpoint.

    And just the general benefit to society/taxes/insurance from fewer car crashes would be enormous.

  47. SomethingStinks says:

    The biggest advantage I see of self driving cars. Two words; Road Rage. And you can have the vehicles lock windows so occupants don’t litter the street with chewing gum, cigarette butts etc. Another advantage, you can do face scans of passengers and take them to the nearest police station if an outstanding warrent or ticket is detected. Mark a street off-limits so no self driving vehicle will even come close. Man I am getting excited!!

  48. Doolittle says:

    “No, it’s brain dead Tesla buyers believing Musk’s BS.”

    Cnchal – Musk is one of the most life changing individuals of recent times, Space x and Tesla alone. I don’t own a Tesla but am thankful to the early adopters. I love driving behind a Tesla breathing zero sooty burning fossil fuels. He has nailed it and it’s a pleasure to watch the legacy automakers forced to get their acts together. This is a major positive disruption for the world. Space x’s reuse of portions of the rockets? Major positive disruption.

    Now, who is brain dead?

    • SoCalBeachDude says:

      Elon Musk. Certifiably. QED.

    • Duke says:

      There has already been a measurable decrease in air pollution in California due to EVs. Google it.
      I live downwind of 10m people. Everytime an EV is sold in SoCal, my air quality gets better. Thankful as well for all EV purchasers. We bought a model Y and are putting 500 miles a week on it. Charge it up at night when the grid has excess power. But Elon says the grid will need 2-3x the supply in the coming years. So keep installing solar and wind, we will need it. I fear electricity pricing may go up and decrease the savings of owning an EV.

      • Natron says:

        Huge portions of the energy generated by electical utilities goes to waste as well as the inefficiencies of using combustion engines.

        Having a boatload of cars charging at night on the grid when other use is lowest is a huge synergy so I think it’ll be a while before demand drives up electric prices. In the meantime you get to kill 2 birds with one stone.

        China is also pursuing better air quality by pushing EV in their large cities for a twofer there – generate a market for EVs and get to breath the air as well. Hopefully they can clean up their other pollution problems eventually too.

        • phillip jeffreys says:

          lol! China purchases and use of coal has accelerated over the last couple years.

          Of course, one has to find paths into foreign hosted exchanges in order to have benefited from this – but that’s a different story.

      • Happy1 says:

        Where is the electricity generated? Power plants running natural gas or coal are cleaner than individual ICE vehicles, but somewhere there is an impact, maybe just not where you live.

        • Duke says:

          California’s grid is more than 50% green already.
          Your point is valid, but the grid power is increasingly renewable and ICE vehicles are not.
          And a Tesla takes 1/3 the energy to go the same distance as an ICE vehicle, so even if there is coal or gas burned somewhere, the EV makes better use of the fossil fuel used.

      • SomethingStinks says:

        Gerald Broflovski is that you… how are the farts smelling today. You giving out make believe tickets in parking lots to SUVs yet?

  49. ksw says:

    We have Waymo driverless taxi service in core areas of Phoenix, Tempe and Scottsdale. No national news articles or commenting allowed about how it got foisted on us. The driverless vehicles circle neighborhoods endlessly waiting for fares, sometimes parking outside someone’s house causing Ring Doorbell alerts. In 2018, an inattentive attendant in an Uber driverless car mowed over a pedestrian. The technology wasn’t foolproof. Then Governor Ducey had a panel of local transport execs meet to discuss driverless services but met only once for 45 minutes. I emailed the Governor and the Board but got zero response. I don’t know if they have ever met since. While the Waymo Jaguar SUVs represent the latest and greatest technology, they don’t slow down when approaching pedestrians, pets or those on bicycles. They don’t have the “body language” of a human driver and rely on the technology only. What could go wrong. On the plus side, no more awkward conversations with creepy drivers, or what to tip? Waymo does not drive to the drop off or pickup at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. It takes you to a remote public transit station where you proceed to the Sky Train to get to the passenger terminals. Arizona is the Wild West and bedroom community for Los Angeles. For now, things just happen and locals don’t get a say in what’s going on in their community in the laissez fair community. Will be watching Governor Hobbs actions on such things.

  50. Hubberts Curve says:

    Do these robotaxi’s have to go back to a home base to charge? Are there plans for superchargers around town with robotic hands-free charging.? I would expect that the total range for these taxi’s ( assuming they are all EV) is pretty small because so much electricity is used up in the computing needs of the car. I read a paper a few years ago that calculated that the utility of self driving ev’s was limited due to the huge power requirements of the computing power needed, even if much of it was shifted to the cloud.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Fleets are ideal for EVs. They regularly go back to the depot for cleaning, inspection, and charging. They’re used in the congested city of San Francisco, which is 7×7 miles. It can take a long time to drive 5 miles. Range anxiety is not a thing for these robotaxis.

    • Duke says:

      Tesla just bought a wireless charging company. The AVs will just drive over a charging pad while waiting for next fare.
      Tesla makes a lot of its own processor chips and motherboards. They are very optimized for the software. Not a significant reduction in range. The FSD code just got rewritten to be 10x fewer lines of code due to AGI simplifying the FSD stack.

      I read all the comments. Cell phones and distractions make human drivers worse. People don’t seem to realize the AV systems will never stop getting better, while human drivers are same or worse YOY.

  51. eg says:

    Who is insuring these things? A few years back I was having a conversation with my father and brother (both are engineers) and the conclusion was that as significant as the technical challenges of autonomous driving might be, it would be regulatory hurdles, insurance and legal technicalities which would ultimately prove to be the rate limiting steps.

  52. Burt Reynolds Wrap says:

    “San Francisco’s North Beach streets clogged as long line of Cruise robotaxis come to a standstill”

    • Wolf Richter says:

      They clogged two narrow streets in North Beach, that are always clogged anyway, Vallejo Street and Grant. For 15 minutes, and then they moved on.

      But this kind of stuff IS funny. It’s only Cruise vehicles that this happens to, not Waymo. Seems Cruise has a prankster on the payroll who does that?

      • P. Hutchinson says:

        The Cruise cars were failing all over town. People were trying to take them to and from Outside Lands but often couldn’t. Cruise says they didn’t have the bandwidth.

        Doesn’t sound like the work of a prankster to me.

  53. Arthur says:

    The urbanite embraces ever more complexity, oblivious to his subjection to convenience.

  54. Fool Self Driving says:

    Wasn’t I just saying we should be listening more to the fire and police instead of lying tech companies (which you didn’t post)?
    SF Chronicle:
    “Following Friday night’s bewildering traffic jams in San Francisco, with Cruise driverless vehicles clogging the streets of North Beach and other neighborhoods, Supervisor Aaron Peskin said Sunday that government agencies would ask the city attorney to file a petition requesting that the state revisit last week’s key approval expanding robotaxi service.”

  55. Fool Self Driving says:

    It was my post the other day I don’t see and still don’t. Maybe it got lost in the ether. Anyway, I was not trying to make this latest post this more than once, though I did somehow get an auto-generated notice of that. Some kind of fat finger on my end or glitch, I guess.

  56. TopHat says:

    Widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles has always been a bizarre idea to me. It involves putting automation in the same cars and trucks that we’ve had for decades so they can drive across the same roads and highways that we’ve had for decades. There are only so many cars and trucks that you can put on these transportation arteries before traffic flows become unstable and break down into congestion or traffic jams. The point I’m getting at here is autonomous vehicles will not deliver anything faster, and it will not deliver more of anything over a given period of time – traffic will always restrict this.

    What’s its really doing, particularly in an urban context, is replacing human drivers when there isn’t currently a shortage of them and the cost benefits are not substantial. Uber might want to replace its human drivers so it can collect the full fare for every trip, but then they will have to pay for all the transportation overhead that is currently covered by its drivers (vehicle lease payments, vehicle insurance, vehicle maintenance and repair, gasoline, road tolls, traffic tickets, and mobile phone bills). I’m not sure how much of a benefit they will get from implementing this technology – and that’s if it works.

    Other transportation technologies, like railroads and steam ships and and the internal combustion engine, all provided massive boosts in transport efficiency for their time. Railroads replaced horse drawn carts because they could transfer more freight over longer distances over shorter periods – a lot more. Autonomous vehicles on current roads and highways, however, cannot increase the frequency of trips, or shorten delivery periods, or deliver over longer distances. They can only replace the driver in what is an inherently restricted network.

    There might be a way to slightly increase this efficiency, but it is unclear if the cost associated with doing this would be prohibitively expensive. It would involve building autonomous vehicle only highways, and assigning a networking router like computer to manage them. The computer would control all the autonomous vehicles on this highway, simultaneously, and determine the most efficient way for every vehicle to collectively travel from their entry to exit ramp. It would function in the same way as computer routers that a manufactured by companies like Cisco, which determine the most efficient way for data packets to make they way through a telephone or computer network. How these vehicles get to the highway on ramp or to their final destination from the highway exit ramp might be managed by drivers at a remote location in the same way that unmanned aerial drones operate. The point here is safety and some efficiency – but in a way that may not be cost effective.

    So while autonomous cars or trucks are a nice novelty and a curiosity, this technology might not be able to provide the same types of efficiencies as our transportation innovations from previous centuries.

    • 91B20 1stCav (AUS) says:

      …hmm, fixing something that ain’t broke but has been insufficiently/quickly refined?

      may we all find a better day.

  57. Fool Self Driving says:

    And right on cue…

    “a driverless Cruise car with a passenger inside collided with a fire truck on Thursday night…

    The same night, another driverless Cruise — this one without a passenger — was also in a collision.”

    I do not believe full self driving will EVER truly be safe in the wild. There are simply an infinite number of unknowns and unknown combinations. What is unknown cannot be programmed for.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      There are hundreds of accidents a day in SF. There are about 1 to 2 accidents every month at our intersection, never fails, hill in both directions, and some moron turns right on red and cannot see that another moron is barreling up the hill to get through the green or yellow light before it turns red, and he can’t see what’s in the intersection, friggin human drivers. Big accidents too. They hit pedestrians. Motorcyclists go flying around. A guy in a Mustang came speeding down the hill, didn’t make the turn, careened across the sidewalk, and hit the wall by our garage door. I mean, you name it, we got it, due to friggin’ human drivers. But when it’s a robotaxi that finally gets into an accident, it makes national news? LOL. Shows your obsession with clickbait.

  58. The Liberty Advocate says:

    “Cali DMV Forces Cruise To Cut Robotaxi Fleet In Half After Several “Concerning Incidents”” Zerohedge

    Well that didn’t take long.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      There are hundreds of accidents a day in SF. There are about 1 to 2 accidents every month at our intersection, never fails, hill in both directions, and some moron turns right on red and cannot see that another moron is barreling up the hill to get through the green or yellow light before it turns red, and he can’t see what’s in the intersection, friggin human drivers. Big accidents too. They hit pedestrians. Motorcyclists go flying around. A guy in a Mustang came speeding down the hill, didn’t make the turn, careened across the sidewalk, and hit the wall by our garage door. I mean, you name it, we got it, due to friggin’ human drivers. But when it’s a robotaxi that finally gets into an accident, or does something weird without accident, it makes national news? LOL. Shows your obsession with ZH clickbait.

      • The Liberty Advocate says:

        Part of the problem is when a robotaxi gets in an accident with an emergency vehicle, like a fire truck, as pointed out in the article, and there is no driver to move the freaking robotaxi out of the way of the emergency vehicle. Or what happens when a robotaxi loses connection with the wireless signal and there is no driver? It’s not about getting in an accident. It’s about no driver and moving these dang things if something happens.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Yes, there are some kinks to work out still, which is why SF doesn’t want to be a petri dish. Apparently they’re working on a way for first responders to tell the vehicles what to do.

          Cruise posted an interesting reply, describing the situation, little visibility just before the intersection due to narrow streets and buildings; and a fire tuck in the wrong lane. The robotaxi hit the brakes, but just a tad too late.

  59. Fool Self Driving says:

    AVs seem capable of operating safely in a controlled, geofenced environment. Everywhere else? Get them the hell off the road.

  60. Stevchek says:

    The financial engineering behind Cruise may be more interesting than the software engineering.

    Cruise has thousands of employees. OPEX for the company far exceeds any potential revenue from providing rides. They may not have drivers, but they do have engineers, testers, a large tech support organization, real estate, a giant IT infrastructure and investors to satisfy.

    GM loves Cruise because it’s a separate company, and they can book the AVs as sold, even though they’re selling them to a company they control.

    Also, Kyle is already a billionaire. He doesn’t need the money he’ll make from the inevitable IPO.

    Cruise is GM’s autonomy R&D operation presented to the public as a viable standalone enterprise. It might be that, but GM is a company with a long history of dumping interesting subsidiaries.

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