Video Shows Cruise Automation's Self-Driving Car Flexing in San Francisco
Autonomous cars are already traversing the sloped streets of San Francisco. A new video on Thursday shows Cruise Automation, the General Motors division, completing a series of complex maneuvers with a fully autonomous car, avoiding delivery drivers, bypassing parking cars, and waiting for pedestrians to finish crossing the street.
The video shows the impressive progress Cruise Automation has made since General Motors acquired it for over $1 billion in March 2016. At the time, the firm was selling $10,000 aftermarket kits for the Audi S4 and A4. The acquisition came just two months after the firm earned the dubious accolade of the first autonomous car involved in a traffic accident in San Francisco. It’s since released further footage of a Chevy Bolt EV going for a spin, while also giving a peek at the wheel-spinning interior in action. Kyle Vogt, president of the division, said on Twitter Thursday that “we made substantial improvements in safety and ride quality during 2018,” and that “2019 is going to be an exciting year!”
San Francisco has served as an important testing ground for the team. Cruise Automation started offering rides to General Motors employees at the start of 2017, using a smartphone app to ferry passengers. Vogt explained in an October 2017 Medium post that autonomous cars in San Francisco encounter challenging situations up to 46 times more often than other self-driving test areas like the suburbs of Phoenix, an area where Google project Waymo has been testing a taxi service. Vogt also notes that San Francisco has a population density five times higher than Phoenix, and its cars face unusual situations like conflicting traffic lights facing the same driver, cyclists, construction works, and bad drivers.
“Testing in the hardest places first means we’ll get to scale faster than starting with the easier ones,” Vogt stated. “This may seem counter-intuitive, but by testing in densely populated areas we expose our software to unusual situations at a much higher rate, which means we can improve our software at a much higher rate. Based on our experience, every minute of testing in San Francisco is about as valuable as an hour of testing in the suburbs.”
Cruise Automation has been working with General Motors to put this technology into a production vehicle. In an October 2018 post, Vogt wrote that the company is manufacturing these cars on a production line, and the team is “thrilled to share the experience with our customers in the near future.” It could be a major step in the race to automation.
Related video: BMW Demos Its Self-Driving Motorcycle at CES 2019