We’ve been covering Cruise for years, but normally just every blue moon or so when the company lifts its head up to provide a bit of information on the development of its self-driving cars. The news this month is that Cruise is beginning to roll out fully self-driving vehicles — with no drivers at all — on the streets of San Francisco. (However, for the time being, there are still “safety operators” who can bring the vehicle to an emergency stop if needed — but nothing else.)
If you’ve ever driven in San Francisco, or walked or biked around there, you know that it is a bit wild. It’s hard for me to imagine a self-driving car handling itself well on those streets, but apparently, Cruise is ready.
The company has certainly been testing in San Francisco for a while, and it uses high-precision maps that know the city well, but removing the drivers as well as the technical supervisors is a bold move to make. Furthermore, it appears the company has dreams of rolling into other cities not very long after San Francisco (maybe in a year?).
The video above was released with the announcement. And Cruise CEO Dan Ammann told reporters yesterday, “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.” It’s not clear what the timeline is expected to be for that rollout across the city, but I would presume 6–12 months.
“Getting to driverless in SF took more than 5 years of rigorous testing, over 2 million miles of driving in one of the craziest driving environments, together with hard work from a huge team of dedicated engineers and others across Cruise, as well as at GM — and not to mention several billion dollars of investment along the way,” he added.
Let’s take a scroll back through some of Cruise’s impressive history to show some of what has led up to this point.
In January 2017, Cruise Founder and CEO at the time Kyle Vogt showed off how far their tech had gotten by sending Ammann, GM President at the time, through San Francisco in an autonomous Chevy Bolt.
Took GM Pres. Dan Ammann for a ride in a Cruise AV. https://t.co/xGfGZwNgRY
— Kyle Vogt (@kvogt) January 19, 2017
A month later, they released more footage, including from inside the car.
In September of 2017, Cruise claimed to have finished the world’s first design for a mass-produced self-driving vehicle. In the same month, Cruise self-driving vehicles were involved in 6 (yes, 6) crashes in California. However, this is what we wrote at the time: “Notably, though, all of these auto crashes are the result of other vehicles, with GM’s self-driving cars being responsible for none of them … if the company is to be believed.”
In October of 2018, Honda invested whopping $2.75 billion into Cruise.
Cruise was a bit quiet after that. Then, in January 2020, Cruise unveiled the the Cruise Origin, its first vehicle designed from the ground up for autonomous driving. “We’re close to cracking that human performance barrier,” Karl Vogt, now CTO of Cruise, told the public.
In the same month, we had a reporter visiting GM at its revitalized and revamped Detroit–Hamtramck factory in Michigan and spending quality time with GM President Mark Reuss, where it was announced GM would produce the Cruise Origin, along with other electric vehicles.
Then, in the middle of October 2020, Dan Ammann published an announcement that I decided to republish in full due to its significance and Ammann’s superb job explaining … the company he’s CEO of and what it’s been up to. The announcement was that Cruise would be the first company to send self-driving cars onto the roads of San Francisco with no human backup drivers. “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,” he wrote at the time.
“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.”
He then went on to explain the “echo” he referenced above — all of the pollution and accidents that come from non-electric, non-autonomous cars every day, every week, every month, and every year.
“The impact on our cities, our world, and our climate will be real and sooner than you might think.”
Cruise also published this video:
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the momentous news that California made it legal for robotaxis to start collecting money from passengers in the state. “More than a dozen companies have long been approved to test out self-driving cars in California. Now, they can also charge passengers if they launch a robotaxi service,” I wrote.
“While this is clearly a step forward toward robotaxi operation in California, there is no indication of what the timeline looks like as far as companies like Waymo, Zoox, AutoX, and Cruise (and Tesla) getting permission to operate commercial robotaxis in The Golden State. Any guesses as to when the first service launches? Any guesses as to which are the first three companies to get permission and start operations?”
I’ll modify those questions a bit: When do you think Cruise will launch actual robotaxi service in San Francisco? When do you think it will launch robotaxi service in a second city?
All images courtesy Cruise/GM.