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Self-driving cars: Google and others map the road to automated vehicles

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Google and a number of automakers are spearheading the movement to get automated vehicles on America's roads. Self-driving cars are street legal in three states, and Google's fleet has collectively logged over 300,000 miles of time on the road. However, there are several obstacles in the path of widespread adoption, with legal and moral opposition to the concept coming from all corners. Follow this StoryStream to track the technology's progress as it transitions from experimental testing to consumer reality that could save thousands of lives.

  • GM’s big bet on driverless cars turns sour

    Kyle Vogt, speaks near the new Cruise Origin, at the unveiling of the new, fully autonomous passenger vehicle in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, January 21, 2020
    Then Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt introducing the company’s driverless Origin shuttle.
    Photo By Carlos Avila Gonzalez/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

    Two years ago, General Motors presented a vision for the future that involved “zero crashes, zero traffic, and zero emissions.” Today, that future seems further away than ever.

    The automaker’s driverless car subsidiary, Cruise, announced last night the resignation of Kyle Vogt as CEO. The decision came over a month after an incident in which a hit-and-run victim became pinned under a Cruise vehicle and then was dragged 20 feet to the side of the road. As a result, California Department of Motor Vehicles suspended Cruise’s permit to operate driverless cars in the state.

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  • TFW your Uber driver is an empty seat.

    Starting today, Phoenix residents can use the Uber app to hail a ride in a driverless Waymo vehicle. The two companies — former rivals turned frenemies (?) — first announced the partnership earlier this year. Tellingly, it’s only available in Arizona, and not California, where tensions around robotaxis are starting to get, well, tense.

    Screenshot of the Uber app on an iPhone prompting a rider to accept a ride with a Waymo-operated autonomous vehicle.
    Image: Waymo
  • How will driverless cars ‘talk’ to pedestrians? Waymo has a few ideas

    Person exiting a driverless Waymo vehicle with visual cues on roof dome.
    Image: Waymo

    For years, developers have been working on ways for driverless cars to communicate intent to other road users, either through audio recordings or visual cues. Today, Waymo says it wants to be one of the first companies to put some of these methods into practice.

    The Alphabet-owned company’s driverless Jaguar I-Pace vehicles will use their roof domes, which are wrapped in LED displays, to communicate messages to other road users. For now, the company is going with just two messages: for pedestrians in front of the vehicle, shifting grey and white rectangles meant to communicate that the vehicle is yielding to them, and for drivers behind the vehicle, a yellow pedestrian symbol to let them know there’s a pedestrian crossing.

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  • Robotaxis in the Bayou City.

    Houston is the next city in the US to get a robotaxi service, courtesy of Cruise, which just announced the launch today. The driverless vehicles will be available seven days a week from 9PM-6AM in Downtown, Midtown, East Downtown, Montrose, Hyde Park, and River Oaks neighborhoods. Robotaxi companies have been targeting bigger, more populous markets, as the pressure to start bringing in more revenue continues to grow. Waymo just started testing the waters in LA, and now Cruise is going after the fourth biggest city in the US.

    Cruise robotaxi in Houston
    Cruise’s robotaxis will only operate at night to start out.
    Image: Cruise
  • What about driver’s ed for driverless cars?

    This opinion piece in the New York Times argues we’re “driving blind” when it comes to autonomous vehicles, citing recent robotaxi crashes in San Francisco and the growing number of fatal Tesla Autopilot incidents. The writer argues that while the federal government regulates hardware, and the states oversee drivers, there’s no one testing to see whether the software operating these vehicles is up to snuff. And that amounts to “a loophole large enough for Elon Musk, General Motors and Waymo to drive thousands of cars through.”

    Hmmm, where have I heard this argument before?

  • Waymo’s robotaxis are now available to tens of thousands of people across all of San Francisco

    Driverless Waymo vehicle in San Francisco
    Photo by AFP / AFP TV / AFP via Getty Images

    Waymo’s robotaxi service area in San Francisco is expanding to 47 square miles of the city — a significant expansion of the company’s driverless ridehail operations.

    Last August, Waymo and its driverless rivals won approval from California regulators to operate their commercial service 24/7. The vote was a significant win for the tech industry, which has been battling criticism that its robot cars occasionally obstruct emergency vehicles and cause traffic jams.

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  • Wes Davis

    Sep 23

    Wes Davis

    California governor vetoes a bill requiring humans in autonomous big rigs

    Two blue Waymo autonomous trucks next to one another on a cloudy, rainy day.
    Driverless trucks from Waymo.
    Credit: Waymo

    Governor Gavin Newsom has vetoed Assembly Bill 316, which would have required human attendants in driverless vehicles over 10,000 pounds, reports Reuters. The bill saw broad support among state legislators and was backed by the Teamsters and other labor organizations. At the moment,

    The governor wrote in his veto message that the bill “is unnecessary for the regulation and oversight of heavy-duty autonomous vehicle technology,” adding that the existing regulatory framework is “sufficient.”

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  • Cruise unveils a wheelchair-accessible robotaxi, with plans to launch in 2024

    Cruise wheelchair-accessible driverless vehicle
    Image: Cruise / Raymond Rudolph Photography

    Cruise, the autonomous vehicle company backed by General Motors, revealed a wheelchair-accessible robotaxi that it says could start picking up disabled passengers as soon as next year.

    The reveal of the newly accessible robotaxi is a major step toward fulfilling the dream of people with vision, hearing, and mobility impairments, who have long held out hope that autonomous vehicles represent a new way of getting around.

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  • Wes Davis

    Aug 19

    Wes Davis

    Driverless buses are tooling around San Francisco’s Treasure Island in a test for the next few months.

    The autonomous shuttles offer free rides along a fixed, seven-stop route in the artificial island’s center from August 2023 to April 2024 (via AP News).

    Called The Loop, the shuttle has no steering wheel, but an onboard attendant can take over with a handheld remote if needed, according to Insider. Its maker, Beep, previously tested it as a medical supply transport in Florida in 2020.

  • We knew Tesla didn’t fix a flaw in Autopilot, and now we have their engineers on record admitting it.

    When two people die in very similar crashes years apart, the reason seems obvious. Autopilot, Tesla’s driver assist system, can’t recognize trucks crossing the road. They knew it couldn’t, and they didn’t fix it. And now we have testimony from their engineers admitting this.

    Despite the company’s knowledge “that there’s cross traffic or potential for cross traffic, the Autopilot at the time was not designed to detect that,” according to testimony given in 2021 by company engineer Chris Payne that was excerpted in a recent court filing. Engineer Nicklas Gustafsson provided a similar account in a 2021 deposition.

    The family for one of the dead Tesla owners is seeking punitive damages in a lawsuit set to go to trial this October.

  • Robotaxis are driving on thin ice

    Autonomous vehicle illustration
    Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

    The day after California regulators handed driverless car companies a major victory, allowing them to expand their services without restriction in San Francisco, a herd of robotaxis decided to celebrate by breaking down in the middle of a busy street.

    According to several local news reports, 10 Cruise vehicles sat paralyzed in a busy intersection near the Outside Lands Music Festival, causing a traffic jam and drawing exasperation from witnesses. The company told KPIX that the music festival caused “wireless connectivity issues” with its vehicles. In other words, festivalgoers were overwhelming the cellular networks, making it difficult for Cruise’s vehicles to send and receive information.

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  • Waymo says Austin, Texas, will be its next robotaxi city

    Waymo robotaxi in Austin
    Image: Waymo

    Waymo’s fourth robotaxi city will be Austin, Texas. It will be a bit of a homecoming for the Alphabet-owned self-driving company.

    Waymo said that it will kick off the process for a commercial robotaxi service in the city later this year. But that doesn’t mean passengers can hail one of the company’s driverless vehicles quite yet; Waymo’s playbook is to start with manual testing, following by supervised testing, fully autonomous driving, and then, eventually, passenger services. The company has been testing its vehicles on the streets of Austin since March, laying the groundwork for the eventual launch of a commercial ridehailing service.

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  • Driverless car legislation is still stuck in neutral in the US

    An illustration of alternating blue and white vehicles over a blue background
    Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

    At a recent House of Representatives subcommittee hearing on self-driving cars, Rep. Kat Cammack (R-FL) kicked off her five minutes of questions for the panelists with a quick appraisal of the toaster-shaped autonomous shuttle that has puttered around her district in Gainesville, Florida, for the past three years.

    “It moves not very fast,” Cammack said with a grimace. “So there’s a lot of frustrations with it, I’ll say that.”

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  • On the cusp of 24/7 service, robotaxis face pleas and protest in San Francisco

    In an aerial view, Waymo autonomous vehicles sit parked in a staging area
    Photo by Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

    On a recent Friday evening, a driverless car pulled up alongside an outdoor dining shed in the Mission district of San Francisco, put on its hazard lights, and waited. As traffic began to pile up behind the vehicle, a man smoking a cigarette outside a nearby bar rolled his eyes.

    “I don’t drive a car,” he grumbled, “so I don’t really care about these things.”

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  • San Francisco residents are disabling robotaxis with traffic cones.

    Car critics in San Francisco are placing orange traffic cones on the hoods of Waymo and Cruise robotaxis in protest of an upcoming vote to allow the autonomous vehicles to operate at all hours. The cones cause the vehicles to stall in the middle of the road — which is a weird thing to do if janky robot cars blocking emergency vehicles is something you want to avoid.

  • VW will test its autonomous ID Buzz in the US starting this month

    VW ID Buzz autonomous vehicle
    Image: VW

    Volkswagen announced it will test autonomous vehicles in the US starting with driverless versions of its ID Buzz electric microbus. The new fleet will be tested on public roads in Austin, Texas, starting later this month.

    The announcement comes months after VW, along with Ford, pulled funding for Argo AI, the self-driving startup that had planned on launching robotaxi services in the US and Europe. The loss of funding caused Argo to shut down and cast a pall over the AV industry, which had been struggling to build a business model around driverless cars for more than a decade.

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  • Uber teams up with Waymo to add robotaxis to its app

    Waymo robotaxi at the Phoenix airport

    Waymo’s robotaxis will be available to hail for rides and food delivery on Uber’s app in Phoenix later this year, the result of a new partnership that the two former rivals announced today.

    A “set number” of Waymo vehicles will be available to Uber riders and Uber Eats delivery customers in Phoenix, where the Alphabet company recently doubled its service area to 180 square miles. The partnership was described as “multi-year,” with the goal of bringing together “Waymo’s world-leading autonomous driving technology with the massive scale of Uber’s ridesharing and delivery networks.”

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  • Waymo barreling ahead with bigger robotaxi coverage in San Francisco and Phoenix

    Waymo robotaxis in San Francisco
    Photo by Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

    Waymo is dramatically expanding its robotaxi service areas in Phoenix and San Francisco as it seeks to gain new customers, generate more revenue, and make a convincing argument that self-driving cars are more than just an expensive fad.

    In Phoenix, the company’s autonomous Jaguar I-PACE vehicles will now cover a total of 180 square miles, or roughly twice the size of its current map and four times the size of the area that the company served when it first launched its ride-hailing operation in 2020.

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  • Amazon’s weird toaster-shaped robotaxi hits the road in a ‘first’ for the company

    Zoox robotaxi on public roads
    Image: Zoox

    Zoox, the autonomous vehicle company owned by Amazon, said that its toaster-shaped driverless vehicle without a steering wheel or pedals was approved to drive on public roads with passengers in California. The company celebrated the milestone as the “first time in history a purpose-built robotaxi — without any manual controls — drove autonomously with passengers.”

    Zoox is one of dozens of companies currently testing AVs on public roads in the Golden State. And while it trails behind competitors like Waymo and Cruise in the race to commercialize the technology, it is making advancements by introducing a new kind of vehicle to the road — one that lacks traditional controls and could hardly be described as a “car” in the modern sense of the word.

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  • Despite mounting opposition, the Bay Area’s robotaxis keep racking up the miles

    GM’s Cruise robotaxi in San Francisco
    Image: Getty Images

    City officials are sick of them. Residents are annoyed by them. And any inkling of profit remains a distant dream. But despite mounting challenges, San Francisco’s robotaxis are rolling along.

    This week, both Waymo and Cruise submitted their latest quarterly trip data to the California Public Utilities Commission, and taken together, they show steady progress in the number of miles and passengers served.

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  • Emma Roth

    Jan 29

    Emma Roth

    San Francisco wants to slow robotaxi rollout over blocked traffic and false 911 calls

    GM’s Cruise Offers Driverless Rides In San Francisco
    Cruise and Waymo are causing traffic issues in San Francisco.
    Image: Getty Images

    San Francisco transportation officials want Waymo and Cruise to slow the expansion of their robotaxi services in the city due to safety concerns, as reported earlier by NBC News. In two letters written to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), the officials on San Francisco County’s Transportation Authority say the expansion of either service “is unreasonable,” citing recent incidents involving stopped driverless vehicles blocking traffic and obstructing emergency responders.

    The GM-backed Cruise and Alphabet-owned Waymo are currently the only companies permitted to offer driverless rides to passengers in San Francisco. In June, Cruise won a permit to charge for rides in its autonomous vehicles (AV) between 10PM and 6AM, while Waymo obtained a permit to offer fully driverless rides a few months later. Unlike Cruise, Waymo still can’t charge for driverless rides, as it’s still awaiting an additional permit from the CPUC.

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  • Andrew J. Hawkins

    Dec 16, 2022

    Andrew J. Hawkins

    Waymo’s driverless robotaxis are now doing airport trips in Phoenix

    Waymo robotaxi at the Phoenix airport

    Waymo is sending its fully driverless cars to handle some of the trickiest types of passenger pickups you can muster: airport trips. The company announced that customers flying in and out of Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport will now be able to hail one of the company’s “rider only” vehicles, a sign that the Alphabet company is willing to take on more risk as it seeks to bolster the case for a fully autonomous taxi service. 

    Waymo is also expanding the size of its service area in both Phoenix and San Francisco as it seeks to send the message that despite all the recent dour headlines about the future of autonomous vehicles, its robotaxi business is still going strong. 

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  • Robotaxis are now available to hail on the Uber app in Las Vegas

    Uber now has robotaxis available for its customers to hail in Las Vegas.

    The vehicles are operated by Motional, a joint venture between Hyundai and Aptiv, and will feature safety drivers behind the steering wheel, though the vehicles will be operated by Motional’s autonomous driving system. Riders are not being charged for the initial launch, with both companies saying that fares will come in the future. And Motional says it intends on launching a public fully driverless service without safety drivers in 2023.

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  • Nov 21, 2022

    Abigail Bassett

    Waymo’s new robotaxi is an all-electric people mover with no steering wheel

    Waymo robotaxi
    Waymo teamed up with Geely to debut its new purpose built autonomous taxi.
    Photo by Abigail Bassett for The Verge

    Waymo, the Alphabet-owned autonomous taxi company that currently operates in a small handful of cities, showed off a brand-new prototype vehicle made by Geely’s luxury Zeekr brand last week at a splashy invite-only event in downtown Los Angeles. 

    While Waymo has largely used production vehicles like the Chrysler Pacifica and Jaguar i-Pace to shuttle passengers around cities like Phoenix and San Francisco, this is the second ground-up design that Waymo has unveiled. The first was the Firefly, which was retired in 2017

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  • Andrew J. Hawkins

    Mar 13, 2018

    Andrew J. Hawkins

    Waymo’s fully driverless minivans are already putting people to sleep

    Recently, Waymo began inviting members of its Early Rider program in Phoenix to take trips in its fully driverless minivans. These are normal people who signed up back in 2017 to serve as guinea pigs for the Google spinoff’s experiments in self-driving transportation. And, as you can see in this new video released Tuesday, the experience is equal parts thrilling and boring.

    In the video, the passengers giggle nervously at the sight of an empty driver’s seat, wondering aloud whether passersby are also slightly freaked out, and making casual references to “the future.” Then, very quickly, as is common among most ride-hailing passengers, they start to zone out. They look at their phones, they yawn, and one even falls asleep. When they reach their destination, they thank not the driver but the car.

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