"It’s a Wright Brothers moment."
Ticket to Ride
General Motors just started charging for rides in its new fleet of driverless Cruise model robotaxis in San Francisco last week, and next it plans to expand to other cities.
It’s a historic moment, and likely a glimpse of things to come. There aren't a lot of companies with fully driverless vehicles on public streets, and even fewer are charging for rides. It was only back in March that federal regulators opened the way for fully driverless vehicles — which, to clarify, now don’t even need to come equipped with manual controls like a steering wheel.
"It’s a Wright Brothers moment," said Cruise Chief Operating Officer Gil West in an interview with Bloomberg. "If you fast forward to next year and beyond, it’s rapid scaling of business."
Initially proposed in 2020, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration officially enacted the ruling just a month after GM requested permission to deploy its driverless Cruise model on public streets. Now its robotaxis prowl the San Francisco streets, open to paying customers.
Many have raised concerns over the safety of deploying driverless cars onto public roads. In 2018, a self-driving car with a human safety driver struck and killed a pedestrian, an incident which was primarily blamed on the inattentive safety driver and catalyzed scrutiny of autonomous vehicles. The premise of self driving cars has long been that they'll make driving safer, but the data remains unclear, and a grisly accident during a trial like GM's could cast a long shadow for public perception of the tech.
And of course, the question of employment can’t be overlooked. If autonomous vehicles do become ubiquitous, they could easily stamp out countless jobs in taxis, trucking, and beyond, with grim implications for the economy.
As it stands, all eyes are on San Francisco. What happens there with driverless cars may be the future for many American cities.
More on autonomous vehicles: BMW Posts, Deletes Ad About Sex Inside Self-Driving Cars