The streets of San Francisco are about to see an increase in the number of driverless cars, despite a series of accidents and incidents. Instances include the cars frequently stopping in the middle of the road, driving through police crime tape, and even striking and killing a dog.
State regulators have given the green light for Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo and General Motors Co.’s subsidiary Cruise to offer driverless rides across the city at all times, with an unlimited number of vehicles. This means that San Francisco will be the first U.S. city with two fleets of robotaxis that can fully compete with traditional taxis and ride-hailing services.
While this may sound exciting, I can’t help but cringe at the thought. During my recent commute downtown in the early morning, I found myself between two driverless vehicles. It was quite disconcerting as I tried to predict their next moves. Eventually, both cars turned onto side streets near Oracle Park, home of the San Francisco Giants.
So why was I so apprehensive? Well, since May, the San Francisco Fire Department has reported 55 “unusual occurrence” incidents involving autonomous vehicles intruding into fire and emergency scenes. In one situation, firefighters were unable to respond to a call because they were blocked by a driverless vehicle.
Additionally, there have been issues with the cars’ wifi connectivity. At the Outside Lands Music Festival in Golden Gate Park last Friday night, at least five Cruise cars caused a traffic jam in the North Beach neighborhood. These driverless cars were stopped in the middle of the road, preventing other vehicles from passing. According to a Cruise spokesperson, this was due to “wireless connectivity issues.”
It remains to be seen how these developments will impact the safety and efficiency of San Francisco’s streets. As more driverless cars hit the roads, it is crucial to address any ongoing issues and ensure the smooth integration of this technology.
Big Events Slowing Down Wifi for Autonomous Cars
Big events with large crowds using their phones can have a negative impact on wifi speeds, which can cause autonomous cars to suffer from a lack of crucial information needed for navigation. Even San Francisco Giants games have reportedly caused outages, which is particularly ironic considering Cruise’s sponsorship of the baseball team and the inclusion of Cruise patches on the players’ uniforms.
Waymo Considers Establishing its Own Cellular Network
In response to this issue, Waymo is now considering the establishment of its own cellular network exclusively for its cars. This would help alleviate the wifi congestion problem and ensure that autonomous vehicles can receive the necessary data to navigate through traffic efficiently.
Concerns About Public Safety
Fire department officials have expressed concerns regarding the lack of initiative from the autonomous vehicle industry to solve these problems that pose a threat to public safety. They argue that these issues are not going away and are, in fact, increasing in severity.
Fleet Sizes and Unleashing Unlimited Cars
Cruise currently operates approximately 300 vehicles at night and 100 during the day in San Francisco, according to company officials. Waymo, on the other hand, has a fleet of 250 robotaxis in service. Now, both companies will have the ability to unleash an unlimited number of cars on the road at any given time.
Reliability Doubts Surrounding Driverless Cars
Driverless cars were initially developed to reduce traffic congestion and enhance road safety. However, despite years of testing and development, doubts about their reliability have continued to escalate. These concerns have been fueled by several incidents, including tests performed at the CES tech show in Las Vegas, where driverless cars operated as Lyft ride-share vehicles. While largely safe during these demonstrations, it became clear that these vehicles struggled to effectively detect unpredictable movements, such as those made by jaywalking pedestrians and reckless drivers.
Calls for a Technology Perfecting Time-Out
Aaron Peskin, president of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, has expressed his belief that autonomous vehicle companies should take a pause and reevaluate the technology before advancing further. He argues that with the deployment of hundreds of cars on city streets, the focus should be on perfecting the technology before fully implementing it. Peskin is actively pursuing various means to reverse the state’s decision, including the potential for a court injunction.
A Future Filled with Unpredictable Robotaxis
The thought of a city filled with these unpredictable robotaxis is becoming increasingly concerning. My daily commute has only become scarier with these developments.