Cruise LLC has truly self-driving cars — no safety driver — on the streets of San Francisco. The company said it’s going so well that it hinted at commercializing the cars sometime next year with the goal of taking the fleet to other major cities.
“We’re starting small with just a few cars, in a few areas of the city and we’ll be expanding to different parts of the city, at different times of day, until we’re operating everywhere in the city,” Cruise CEO Dan Ammann said last week.
Cruise started testing five vehicles last month. Ammann said he was “lucky enough” to be one of the first passengers in one.
“It was wildly boring,” Ammann said. “The ride itself was extremely natural and predictable so it was kind of boring, but in all the right ways.”
In October, the California Department of Motor Vehicles gave Cruise permission to test its autonomous vehicles without a safety driver in San Francisco.
Cruise is a self-driving car developer largely owned by GM, Honda Motor Co. and SoftBank. The permit allows Cruise to test five driverless Chevrolet Bolt-based vehicles on certain streets. Cruise is the fifth company to receive a driverless testing permit in California.
Last week, Cruise released a two-and-a-half minute video of the moment a safety driver steps out of the car and a voice broadcasts, “all systems ready, engaging,” and the car takes off, making turns throughout the darkened streets of San Francisco at night to the excitement of Cruise developers watching.
The narrator explains that for over five years Cruise has been driving the streets of San Francisco logging in 2 million miles of testing for the zero-emission driverless cars.
“This is the beginning. There’s not that many opportunities in life to work on a technology that’s going to disrupt the last 100 years of transportation,” Kyle Vogt, Cruise co-founder and chief technology officer says in the video.
“And probably not an opportunity for any of us to work on a technology that will have such a positive impact on society and on humanity, and this is our humble step in that direction.”
Ammann said Cruise will continue to expand the testing on a methodical basis slowly across the city, pulling back the curtain on what’s largely been secret development.
“Our activity will be more visible externally and you’ll see the progress we’re making in a more tangible way. I think you’ll see things move pretty quickly and next year will be a pretty exciting year.”
Cruise does have a team of people that remotely monitors the driverless cars for safety measures, but he declined to say if they could take over the controls from remote if something went wrong.
When GM was granted the permit to test the driverless cars, GM CEO Mary Barra told analysts that getting that green light in San Francisco is key to GM’s ability to advance its self-driving business.
“If you think about ride-sharing today, the opportunity for profitability is in dense urban environments,” Barra said. “So having the opportunity to test it there is a pathway to faster commercialization and profitability.”