Driverless Taxi Rides Are Now Available In California

For whatever reason, driverless tech and electric vehicles often get grouped together. Perhaps this is because both technologies are so new, perhaps because most think of Tesla when the subject turns to self-driving and EVs. However, Tesla isn’t the only company working to make driverless cars a reality. Autonomous tech company Cruise has made some big gains in the field recently and is excited to share the news.

DMV permits and driverless cars

The interior of the driverless Cruise Taxi with no steering wheel | Cruise
The eerily bare interior of a Cruise taxi | Cruise

It’s true, the image above is a shocking one, but according to Cruise, this is soon to be the norm, at least for the San Francisco-based company. Earlier last month, Cruise applied for a permit for their driverless cars in the state of California. The permit has since been granted by the California State DMV and the California Public Utilities Commission. This means that very soon there will be fleets of the Chevy Bolt-based taxis spread across the state.

The permits specifically allow driverless deliveries and rides across the state. Amazing as it sounds, it’s not even the first time something like this has happened. In some locations, Amazon relies on autonomous vehicles to complete simpler delivery tasks. All of this tech is very experimental, but innovation is always welcome, and it’ll be interesting to see how all this driverless business plays out.

How it all works

A see-through image showing the electronics behind the Cruise driverless taxi
The electronics behind self-driving | Cruise

Most driverless cars work off a combination of two things: radar and cameras, both controlled by a computer. In layman’s terms, the computer compiles the data from both the cameras and radar to deduce what is happening in front of the car and behave accordingly. The Cruise system works in much the same way.

One of the most important parts of this process is something Cruise is already on top of. Prediction is extremely important in these scenarios, and without it, a self-driving car is a difficult thing to produce. Prediction is also why humans are so good at driving. We’re able to constantly monitor and predict what is going to happen around us. For example, if a ball rolls into the street with no one in sight, it’s a safe prediction that something will be following the ball very soon. This is exactly how Cruise vehicles predict variables on the road, and then learn from them to become a better package.

Is anyone else a little nervous?

A man removes his hands from the steering wheel of a Tesla on Autopilot
A Tesla using Autopilot | Artur Widak via Getty Images

As amazing as all this tech is – and it is amazing – it’s also a little concerning to some. It’s not hard to see why either; people are an unknown variable on the road, but they are a known constant and most people know how to navigate around those who are… less than experienced drivers. The concern here is that machines have so little learned experience and the technology is so new that it could be dangerous to others on the road. This kind of thing does happen, often with Tesla involved in some way. New tech always has hiccups, but the cost of those hiccups must be considered before we press further into a driverless world.

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