Editor’s note: We normally don’t republish content from companies, but this is an interesting piece from the head of Cruise that I think is worth reading in full as it was written — not just our coverage of the news. We will surely editorialize on it, but here is the take of Dan Ammann after many years working on this and reaching the notable milestone of fully self-driving, unmanned electric cars on the streets of San Francisco.
2020 has been a heap of bad. And not small bad either. As we’ve been stuck at home, viewing the world through either real or virtual windows, every bit of depressing news has felt magnified.
Like many of you, I looked through my window a few weeks ago and saw climate change up close and personal. No longer subtle or abstract, it was bright orange and everywhere. The problem suddenly seemed more massive and immediate than ever.
And while the planet is on fire, the culprits are literally rolling up and down my street. Single occupant, human-driven, gasoline-powered cars are the second largest contributors of greenhouse gases on Earth.
We need big solutions. And we need them now.
But big solutions to intractable problems aren’t just hacked together overnight. Moonshots take an unwavering commitment over a long time, while riding cycles of expectations that swing wildly from hype to disillusionment.
From time to time, though, there will be small but significant moments where the impact and promise of those years of effort show themselves in a very tangible way.
And in that spirit I’m excited to share that we’ve reached one of those moments just now.
Today, Cruise received a permit from the California DMV to remove the human backup drivers from our self-driving cars. We’re not the first company to receive this permit, but we’re going to be the first to put it to use on the streets of a major U.S. city.
Before the end of the year, we’ll be sending cars out onto the streets of SF — without gasoline and without anyone at the wheel. Because safely removing the driver is the true benchmark of a self-driving car, and because burning fossil fuels is no way to build the future of transportation.
It will be a low key, quiet moment. But the echo could be loud.
I get it — the drama of this might be hard to appreciate. All anyone will see is a car, silently driving by itself through the city. Not speeding. Not crashing. Just quietly cruising. (Truthfully, I sometimes wish that safe driving could be as visceral as a rocket launch — our videos would be more exciting, and I could write fewer blog posts.)
But even without a literal launch into the sky, this is our moonshot. And the chaotic, gritty streets of SF are our launchpad. This is where years of blood, sweat, and tears have been poured out by everyone on the Cruise mission. And it’s where over two million miles of city testing will truly hit the road for the first time: an electric car, driving by itself, navigating one of the most difficult driving cities in the world.
And while it would be easier to do this in the suburbs, where driving is 30–40 times less complex, our cities are ground zero for the world’s transportation crisis. This is where accidents, pollution, congestion, and lack of accessibility collide. Often quite literally.
And that echo I mentioned?
Personal, gasoline-powered vehicles spew nearly three times their own weight in carbon dioxide every year. Cruise cars spew none.
The pandemic has seen the killing of Americans on our roads accelerate to the fastest rate in 15 years. Less traffic caused people to drive like idiots. More speeding, drinking and drugs. Fewer seatbelts. Self-driving cars will save millions of lives.
City dwellers, in a sad twist on social distancing, are now buying more cars than ever. Traffic won’t just come back, it will suck worse than ever. But self-driving cars, which can be shared safely and efficiently, will reduce congestion dramatically and permanently.
The impact on our cities, our world, and our climate will be real and sooner than you might think.
But for today, I’m going to celebrate this one moment — this small but significant step on our own mission to the moon.
And in the months ahead, if you happen to see any of our cars out on the road, go ahead and wave. There might not be anyone inside, but they see you too, and appreciate your support as they drive change for us all.
A Message from Cruise Co-Founder & CTO, Kyle Vogt