FutureStructure

Cruise's Robot Taxis Hit the Streets of San Francisco

As of right now, Cruise employees are the only San Franciscans who can currently get rides in robot taxis. However, app-hailed self-driving cars may not be far off.

by Carolyn Said, San Francisco Chronicle / August 9, 2017

(TNS) -- Want to catch a ride in a self-driving car? All you have to do is land a job at Cruise, the San Francisco startup now owned by General Motors.

Cruise tests its fleet of autonomous Chevrolet Bolts with its employees, who can request trips via a ride-hailing app called Cruise Anywhere. The pilot program, which began in February, is now being expanded so employees can make more stops, rather than just going straight to and from work. However, it is starting small. Only about 10 percent of Cruise’s 200-plus employees are participating so far, and there’s a waiting list for more to join, the company said.

As is legally required with all autonomous car tests on public roads in California, a backup driver is at the wheel, ready to take control. Cruise has permission from the state Department of Motor Vehicles to test 47 cars, which sport names like Albatross, Platypus, Mongoose and Pronghorn. The DMV has approved 121 Cruise employees as backup drivers.

Cruise passengers drive around with a tablet in hand so they can give comprehensive feedback to its engineers at every turn. Adding more options for stops and routes allows for more information on how people react to self-driving cars, it said.

That makes Cruise employees the only San Franciscans who can currently get rides in robot taxis. Uber tried launching its service late last year without regulators’ approval, and was promptly shut down. Uber and Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving car business, are running tests of app-hailed self-driving cars in Arizona.

General Motors bought Cruise last year for north of $500 million and promptly made Cruise the center of its self-driving research. In April, GM said it would add more than 1,100 jobs to that division over the next five years and spend $14 million on a new research and development facility in San Francisco.

GM has also invested some $500 million for a minority stake in San Francisco ride-hailing service Lyft, and has discussed launching a fleet of robot taxis through Lyft in the next year.

It’s not clear how Cruise and Lyft might interact. Cruise’s announcement implied that it might even run its own robot-taxi ride-hailing service.

“Cruise Anywhere is currently in beta with Cruise employees as we work to ensure the best user experience possible for the eventual consumer,” the company said.

©2017 the San Francisco Chronicle Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.