GM’s self-driving car development unit, Cruise Automation, gave a number of media figures rides through the crowded downtown San Francisco metropolitan area on Tuesday, giving us a chance to check in on the state of the company’s tech.
So, how did the GM/Cruise self-driving car do on its first media demonstration (non-employees riding in the car)? During the Reuters trip at least, quite well, with the driver only having to take over once — after the car waited for over a minute behind a taco truck where customers were ordering lunch (the driver disengaged simply to move things along, not because of there being any danger).
Notably, though, the system was very cautious — as most competitor systems are as well — with bicyclists approaching from the opposite direction leading to the vehicle slowly down to a crawl, for instance.
Reuters provides more: “A self-driving General Motors Co Bolt slowly drove more than two miles through crowded San Francisco streets in its media debut on Tuesday, but double-parked cars and orange traffic cones tripped up the computer driver, and a taco truck stumped the machine.
“… During a roughly 15-minute ride in a busy area of San Francisco over a 2.2 mile (3.5km) trip, the Cruise-enhanced electric Bolt carrying a Reuters journalist encountered 117 people, 4 bikes, and 129 cars, according to the car’s sensors.
“The car, never moving more than 20 miles per hour, navigated urban traffic, a tram line, construction zones, pedestrians crossing streets, and many double-parked vehicles. Urban environments are as much as 46 times more complex than suburban areas, Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt said.
“‘Looking for a clear path’ screens facing the driver and passengers read several times during the trip, when the car stopped next to some traffic cones or behind double-parked vehicles. After pauses, it restarted and passed the obstacles by itself.”
While that may not sound too impressive to some people, if a self-driving car can travel through downtown San Francisco safely, then it can function in the vast majority of the wealthier cities of the world.
I should probably be clear here — I fully acknowledge that self-driving cars may well never be able to handle the chaotic traffic of many of India’s larger cities, or the tiny and winding medieval streets of some European city centers, or for that matter, areas that are essentially off-road … but that’s not the point. When most people are talking about the rollout of self-driving cars, they are talking about wealthy cities with well maintained road systems — where self-driving taxis stand to make operators and manufacturers quite a lot of money.
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