The hype cycle of driverless cars is on yet another depressing downswing. Last week, Tesla boss Elon Musk admitted that full self-driving software was not yet ready to be used without someone sitting behind the wheel. Mobileye, Intel’s autonomous driving unit, cut its valuation expectation from $50bn down to $16bn. Multiple media outlets have published stories mocking the sector for its failings after billions of dollars of investment. The peculiar thing is that this has all happened just as robotaxis arrive on the streets of San Francisco. For $10 or so, you can catch a driverless car from the famous Painted Ladies on Alamo Square to the bars of Nob Hill, watching from the back seat as the wheel turns itself to manoeuvre the car through traffic. The test scheme was launched by Cruise, an autonomous vehicle business that is majority owned by General Motors. Like Uber, it has an app that you can use to call a car to meet you. Prices are similar too, though presumably the rides should be cheaper if it takes off. It is disconcerting to see a driverless car pull up beside you and listen as a robotic voice tells you to put on a seatbelt and enjoy your ride. But every journey I have taken has been perfectly smooth. The cars are cautious drivers when they spot obstacles, which is very reassuring for nervous passengers. This could also be why there have been reports of cars stuck in the road and blocking traffic. After a crash with a speeding vehicle, Cruise recalled its robotaxis and updated the software. It now plans to expand the scheme to Austin and Phoenix.
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