Mar 19, 2024 - News

Robotaxi firms aim to overcome rivals' sins

A steering wheel of a self-driving car.

The steering wheel of a Waymo autonomous self-driving Jaguar taxi. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

On the subject of robots, a dwindling number of self-driving car companies are striving to earn the public's trust, a challenge complicated by their competitors' mistakes.

Why it matters: High-profile incidents like the dragging of a pedestrian by a Cruise robotaxi last October have shaken public confidence in autonomous vehicle (AV) technology, writes Axios' Joann Muller.

  • Autonomous vehicles were the subject of complaints last year from Austinites and emergency workers.

Driving the news: Waymo began offering its driverless taxi service to riders in Los Angeles last week and said it will do the same in Austin in the coming months.

What they're saying: AVs were a big topic at SXSW last week.

  • In an on-stage conversation with Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, Austin Mayor Kirk Watson said AV companies need to do a better job of working with cities to avoid costly failures.
  • "I'm all for profit margins and stuff, but ultimately the public good has to play a role in this, and it shouldn't be sacrificed, and it shouldn't be secondary to the profit of the private entity," Watson said.

Asked about the mayor's remarks during a different session, Waymo co-CEO Tekedra Mawakana said the company has worked hard to engage with local community groups and first responders.

  • At the same time, she defended against criticism from others that Waymo's robotaxis are too cautious and that the company is moving too slowly.
  • "We took a lot of heat for obeying traffic laws," she said. "Making sure that people feel safe in the vehicles before we actually scale in a particular jurisdiction, I think that's the right approach."

The bottom line: It takes years for AV companies to earn the public's trust, but they can lose it instantly if they're not careful.

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