Dec 11, 2020 - Economy

Self-driving cars have a long way to go

Cruise self-driving car

Photo: Cruise

Cruise this week touted its first fully driverless vehicle tests in San Francisco, two days after Uber sold its autonomous vehicle unit to a rival.

Why it matters: Neither development was quite what it seemed, however, reminding us that self-driving cars are still a long way from commercialization.

Driving the news: Cruise, the self-driving tech firm backed by General Motors and Honda, shared video of its first tests with no one behind the wheel.

  • "What we’re witnessing here is the move of real self-driving out of the R&D lab and on to the path to being a commercial product that everyone can use," Cruise CEO Dan Ammann told reporters.

Reality check: The featured test occurred at night, in a quiet residential neighborhood, with no other cars on the road except those parked along the side of the street.

  • An operator in the passenger seat held a "kill switch" but had no access to the traditional driver controls, a Cruise spokesperson tells Axios.
  • Ammann said the driverless testing would start small, and expand to more cars, in more neighborhoods, in 2021.

Earlier in the week, Uber said it was handing its self-driving project to Aurora and would invest $400 million in the Silicon Valley startup.

  • After sinking hundreds of millions of dollars into the AV unit — which had been plagued with safety and legal problems from the start — Uber is essentially paying Aurora to take over the project, the New York Times observed.
  • By partnering with Aurora, and taking a stake in the company, Uber is keeping some chips on the table for a future robotaxi service, however.
  • Aurora's current focus is on self-driving trucks, but it likely sees potential business with Toyota, which had backed Uber's AV project.

What to watch: Two other AV companies, Zoox and Canoo, are going to reveal new self-driving vehicles next week.

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