If you’re sick of looking at those self-driving cars with droids on top of them, now you can get into one and get a free ride instead — but the program seems unlikely to start for weeks or even months.
The self-driving cars of GM subsidiary Cruise, competing with Google’s Waymo and Tesla to finally get this autonomous vehicle concept up and running, do not have a state license to transport paying riders. Their solution? Just give people the rides for free.
KPIX reports that Cruise is offering sign-ups to get a free ride in a self-driving cab, fully driverless, and with no human driver in the front seat. You can sign up here, but that doesn't mean you’re ever going to get the ride. As the Chronicle reports, it’s a waitlist that GM promises will start launching rides in “weeks not months” (in other words they are not announcing a timeline), and that Cruise “said it will pick names from the wait list,” so no guarantee they will actually pick you.
“Today we are opening up our driverless cars in San Francisco to the public,” Cruise interim CEO Kyle Vogt said in a company blog post. “We’re opening a sign-up page on our site today so you can get a driverless ride soon — and free, for now! We’re starting with a small number of users and will ramp up as we make more cars available, so sign up now to lock in an early spot.”
What interim CEO Kyle Vogt does not inform you is that there are many restrictions on these rides, to the point where they are not actually useful for most people as transportation. As the Chronicle notes, “Cruise’s rides for the public will run from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. and will be in the city’s northwest quadrant — including Nob Hill, the Fillmore, the Panhandle, the Sunset and the Richmond.” So it’s odd hours and limited range, but… you can get to say that you did it!
And you’ll notice we called him “interim” CEO. There has been recent tumult at the top for Cruise, as the company pushed out its previous CEO in December. Automotive News reported that the previous CEO was pushing hard for Cruise to go public so they could lure talent with stock options. And in the blog post Vogt proudly announces that their investor SoftBank “agreed to invest an additional $1.35 billion when we started operating fully driverless cars. I’m pleased to announce we’ve officially hit that milestone! This additional capital will help us expand our world-class team.” So… is the tail wagging the dog here? Did they push this program out just to hit that milestone? To be blunt… is Cruise hurting for money, or having trouble hiring?
Still, if these rides actually happen, that is indeed a significant milestone. But it was supposed to have already happened years ago. And for that matter, when Travis Kalanick was in charge at Uber, he said we would have flying robot taxicabs at this point. This may sound like heresy to the tech crowd, but we must point out that the self-driving car industry has a history of overpromising and underdelivering.
Just something to keep in mind before you grab that free ride, which will likely come with a non-disclosure agreement and a promise that you won’t sue them if there’s an accident.