Cruise Robotaxis Roll Out in Tesla’s Home Town

  • GM’s Cruise launches robotaxi service in Austin and Phoenix before the end of 2022, adding to operations in San Francisco.
  • The Level 4 robotaxis are based on the battery-electric Chevrolet Bolt equipped with various sensor types.
  • Cruise is one of a handful of companies that has advanced to operating robotaxis on a commercial basis, taking just three months to prep and launch Austin operations.

    Just days before the holidays, GM’s Cruise quietly launched its robotaxi service in the city of Austin, Texas, following a similar rollout in San Francisco almost a year ago. The SAE Level 4 vehicles, all Chevrolet Bolts, are now available to Cruise employees and their families on a paid basis, ahead of a wider deployment in the coming months.

    Austin is now the autonomous startup’s third city to see a robotaxi service launch, reflecting a gradual rollout of this technology in a number of major cities.

    “In both Phoenix and Austin we completed our first paid rides for members of the public,” Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt wrote on Twitter. “Just like in SF, we’ve started with a small service area and will expand gradually. But since we’ve already done this in SF it will happen much faster in these new cities.”

    The commercial robotaxis use Lidar, radar, and cameras to navigate streets, with a number of them mounted on a sensor pod on the roof, as do other Level 4 prototypes relying on several types of sensors to paint a 3D picture of their surroundings.

    Vogt said it took the company only about 90 days to go from having zero infrastructure in the Texas city, including EV chargers, map data, and the vehicles themselves, to actually launching a commercial robotaxi service.

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    “One really exciting discovery was that by including data from PHX and AUS, we actually saw *improved* system performance in SF,” Vogt added. “We had hoped this would happen but were pleasantly surprised by how well it worked. We expect this trend to continue as we expand to more cities.”

    The company’s launch of Level 4 robotaxis has not been without hiccups: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is currently investigating instances of vehicle immobilization as well as hard braking. The regulator indicated earlier this month it has received reports of three rear-end collisions involving Cruise robotaxis, in which the taxis braked hard in traffic.

    It remains to be seen whether Cruise will be able to swiftly move past some initial technical issues, but its rollout of Level 4 vehicles in Austin, where Tesla headquarters are located, is perhaps another reminder of just how far ahead of Tesla’s own autonomous driving efforts Cruise has advanced.

    It is worth recalling that in 2019 Elon Musk promised Tesla owners will be able to rent out their own vehicles equipped with Full Self-Driving to make money, specifically up to $30,000 a year, and that FSD itself would be achieved by 2020.

    So far it’s clear which company has delivered more when it comes to autonomous cars.

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