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2023 was the year Cruise's robotaxi dream came to a crashing end

The year had started so well for robotaxis. Cruise and Waymo came into 2023 riding high on fresh investments from General Motors and Google, respectively, as well as rapidly growing interest from the general public and a downright rabid rate of adoption by city governments. Things were looking up, very up, for the burgeoning self-driving vehicle industry! Then a driverless Crusie taxi accidentally dragged a hit-and-run victim down a San Francisco street for a few dozen feet and everything just sort of went to shit from there. So fragile, these Next Big Things. Let’s take a look back through the year that was to see how autonomous taxi tech might recover from this catastrophe.

Cruise (Out of) Control

Cruise came into this year looking like a nigh-on unstoppable force of transportational change as the core of GM's self-driving efforts. The company received a $1.5 billion investment from the automaker in March 2022 after GM spent $2.1 buying equity ownership for the startup from Softbank Vision Fund. In February the company announced that its test fleet of driverless taxis had traveled a million miles of San Francisco’s streets without a human behind the wheel. The program had only started the previous November.

"When you consider our safety record, the gravity of our team’s achievement comes into sharper focus," Mo Elshenawy, Cruise's EVP of engineering, said in February. "To date, riders have taken tens of thousands of rides in Cruise AVs. In the coming years, millions of people will experience this fully driverless future for themselves."

Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt had been installed at his position in December 2021 after GM CEO Mary Barra ousted Dan Ammann from the spot. Vogt spent the following year laying out a grand vision of “zero crashes, zero traffic, and zero emissions,” though, according to a November report from the New York Times, the company “put a priority on the speed of the program over safety” during his tenure, cutting corners on safety in order to get more vehicles on the road. And expand Cruise did, into Houston and Los Angeles most notably, despite a growing number of traffic incidents and accidents left behind by its vehicles.

In April, the company was given permission to operate its driverless vehicles throughout San Francisco, 24/7 as well as pick up paying passengers during daylight hours. Previously, only Cruise employees were allowed to ride in the robotaxis and they could only operate when the sun was out. In August, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) voted 3-to-1 in favor of allowing Cruise (and Waymo as well) to to pick up paying passengers at all hours.

Not everybody was fully on board with the robotaxi takeover, mind you. In January 2023, San Francisco officials requested the CPUC slow or even halt the expansion of self-driving vehicle services in the city, arguing that the free-for-all growth OK’d by state regulators was becoming an “unreasonable” burden. In fact, barely a week after the CPUC voted in favor of expansion, the California DMV opened an investigation into an altercation between a Cruise taxi and a fire truck. In response, the DMV had Cruise cut its operating fleet in half — down to 50 vehicles during daylight hours and 150 at night — until it had completed its investigation. Then there was the whole “using robotaxis as love hotels” issue in August.

(1/3) At approximately 9:30 pm on October 2, a human-driven vehicle struck a pedestrian while traveling in the lane immediately to the left of a Cruise AV. The initial impact was severe and launched the pedestrian directly in front of the AV.

— cruise (@Cruise) October 3, 2023

Those mishaps were bad. The events of October 3 and Cruise’s response to the resulting investigation proved unforgivable. As the company initially explained in the above thread, a human-driven vehicle struck a pedestrian, pushing her into the path of the Cruise taxi in the lane to her right. The taxi ran the woman over, despite aggressively braking, and ended up dragging her 20 feet until coming to a stop. EMS crews were able to extract the pedestrian from underneath the taxi using the jaws of life, and rushed her to medical treatment with critical injuries.Though she has not been identified, the pedestrian was reportedly in serious condition as late as October 25.

If that weren’t bad enough, Cruise then allegedly misled regulators about when the taxi engaged its brakes — telling them that the taxi had stopped immediately, not eventually, after slowly traveling another 20 feet down the block. The company then repeatedly delayed in releasing video of the incident to investigators until October 19.

The company’s cover-up efforts puts Cruise in financial jeopardy with the CPUC, which is currently considering fining it as much as $1.5 million for its obfuscating actions. The Commission's decision will be made in early February at an upcoming evidentiary hearing.

More immediately, the accident itself set off a whole slew of investigations, regulatory and internal alike. The Exponent consulting firm was brought in as an independent investigator and promptly dredged up some rather unflattering data regarding the robotaxis’ difficulties with spotting and reacting to the presence of small children. That revelation wasn’t so bad, at least compared to the company’s decision to keep the vehicles on the road even after being informed of the potentially deadly defect.

The California DMV was not amused and, two weeks after the accident occurred, the department suspended Cruise’s license to operate within the state, effectively shuttering its robotaxi operations. That’s a huge blow to GM, which has sunk billions into the startup and was anticipating the robotaxi service to generate as much as $5 billion annually when operations were to begin in 2025. In mid-November, the company recalled all 950 of its autonomous taxis in operation, and even paused robotaxi rides with human safety drivers behind the wheel a week later, as part of a “full safety review.”

Then things got even worse. On November 18, CEO Kyle Vogt announced his resignation from his position a week after GM installed EVP of Legal and Policy Craig Glidde (who was already a Cruise board member) as Chief Administrative Officer. The following day, company co-founder and Chief Product Officer Daniel Kan also announced his departure.

In response to Vogt's departure, GM promoted Mo Elshenawy from EVP of Engineering to the dual role of President and CTO, leaving the CEO position currently vacant. GM CEO Mary Barra told reporters recently that the company has “a lot of confidence with what the two co-presidents will do,” but will be “leaning in to make sure that it meets our strict requirements from a safety perspective.”

GM suddenly found itself holding the multibillion dollar bag, so it cut off funding near immediately, slashing budgets to the tune of “hundreds of millions” of dollars. As a result, Cruise has since suspended its equity program and begun laying off employees, starting with those in autonomous vehicle operations.

"The most important thing for us right now is to take steps to rebuild public trust," Cruise said in a statement. "Part of this involves taking a hard look inwards and at how we do work at Cruise, even if it means doing things that are uncomfortable or difficult."

But Cruise isn’t entirely dead yet, as Elshenawy explained in a recent email to staff. The company plans to scale back its self-driving ambitions and relaunch with a renewed focus on the current Chevy Bolt AV robotaxi platform, rather than its custom-built Origin vehicle. As such the company is pausing production on the Origin at least through 2024 but does plan to continue the program at some point in the future.

Waymo Money, Waymo Problems

Waymo entered 2023 in much the same way as Cruise did: riding high on the hype and promise of self-driving vehicle technology. However it is ending the year in a very different place from its biggest competitor.

Google-backed Waymo had received glowing praise from Swiss RE, a leading global reinsurer, regarding the safety of its vehicles versus human drivers the previous September, and had just launched its second Waymo One taxi service area that December, this time in Phoenix, Arizona, running a route between downtown and the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

Following a rigorous cycle of validation and safety readiness evaluation, @Waymo is starting fully-autonomous (no human driver) testing in LA. Thrilled by the data confirming, once again, how well our ML-based 5th-gen Driver generalizes across cities!

— Dmitri Dolgov (@dmitri_dolgov) February 27, 2023

Los Angeles joined Waymo’s stable of cities in February. Much as it was rolled out in San Francisco, Waymo’s self-driving vehicles were initially made available only to riders who were part of the Waymo Research Trusted Tester program in a limited area (in this case, Santa Monica), always outside of rush hour and only in limited numbers.

The following month the company launched a similar effort in Austin, Texas, a town where it had conducted some of its earliest self-driving tests back in 2015. Austin is a hot town to test self-driving vehicles in, on account of a 2017 state law that prevents cities from locally regulating the technology’s use and deployment on their streets.

Things were going so well for Waymo come summer that the company announced it would shift gears, pushing back plans for its self-driving truck idea to instead focus fully on its expanding robotaxi service.

“Given the tremendous momentum and substantial commercial opportunity we’re seeing on the ride-hailing front, we’ve made the decision to focus our efforts and investment on ride-hailing,” Waymo co-CEOs Tekedra Mawakana and Dmitri Dolgov wrote in a July blog post. "We’re iterating more quickly than ever on our technology by pushing forward state of the art AI/ML, and seeing significant business growth and rider demand in San Francisco, Phoenix, and Los Angeles.”

By August, Waymo announced that Austin would be joining those towns as the fourth city to host its autonomous taxi service, with the program rolling out through the Fall. That same month, Waymo received its driverless deployment permit from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), enabling the company to begin charging passengers for its robotaxi rides as well as expanding the service to additional customers. Previously, the company could only charge for rides if a human safety driver was behind the wheel. The company acknowledged at the time that demand was “incredibly high” (signups had already reportedly passed 100,000 users) but that it was working to make its fully autonomous trips "available to everyone over time."

“Things are growing… The ridership is increasing in both Phoenix and SF,” he continued, noting that the company provides more than 10,000 trips per city each week. Overall, it would have been a pretty great year for Waymo — especially after chief rival, Cruise, effectively imploded over the course of Q4 — had the company’s workforce not been subject to not one, not two, but three rounds of layoffs impacting over 300 employees.

The Road Ahead for Robotaxis

As we head into the new year, Waymo is effectively the only game in town, now that Cruise isn’t a viable commercial entity for the foreseeable future.

Midway through the year, analysts predicted the robotaxi market, valued at just over $1.1 billion in 2022, could rise to anywhere from $45.7 billion in 2030 to $118 billion in 2031 citing, “increasing demand for shared transportation, advancements in vehicle technology, growing interest in fuel-efficient public transportation, and improved infrastructure.”

Those outlooks have been tempered in recent months, at least for short term estimates, with Cruise temporarily out of the picture. Forrester Analytics, for example, now expects drone delivery services to become the dominant self-driving vehicle segment in 2024 as pushback from regulators slows development of robotaxi transit tech.

“Expect a booming year for self-driving forklifts, curbside delivery robots, and drone delivery, driven by the increasing popularity of e-commerce, the need for last-mile delivery solutions, and more sophisticated autonomous technologies,” wrote Craig Le Clair, Vice President and Principal Analyst at Forrester.

We are, of course, still waiting on those million robotaxis Elon Musk promised us back in 2019.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Cruise co-founder resigns following CEO exit

Cruise, the self-driving car company owned by General Motors, confirmed to Reuters that its co-founder and chief product officer Daniel Kan has resigned. Kan’s departure comes just a day after the company’s CEO Kyle Vogt announced his resignation on X after a 10-year tenure. Kan is said to have announced his resignation over Slack, however, the reasoning for his departure has not been made clear by the company.

The company’s executive reshuffling follows a public relations nightmare that started last month when a Cruise robotaxi hit a pedestrian in San Francisco and pinned them under the vehicle. The parent company, GM, is still conducting a safety probe on the accident and both autonomous and manual vehicle operations at Cruise remain suspended. The company’s public image has been reeling from the accident ever since, and about 950 robotaxis had to be recalled by GM. The California DMV suspended Cruises’ driverless permits shortly after, and that ruling has remained in place.

(1/6) We learned today at 10:30 am PT of the California DMV’s suspension of our driverless permits. As a result, we will be pausing operations of our driverless AVs in San Francisco.

— cruise (@Cruise) October 24, 2023

In a recent tweet, Cruise said that the company is focused on taking steps “to rebuild public trust.” Things have yet to look up for the company, especially after an expose by The Intercept revealed that the company knew its self-driving cars have trouble recognizing children and large holes in the roads. Furthermore, the former CEO said that the company would have to lay off an undisclosed number of employees and staff members in a memo.

Cruise has not made any statements about finding replacements for either its CEO or chief product officer as of yet. The New York Times reports that “instead of installing a new chief executive” General Motors has appointed two new members to the company board and Mo Elshenawy, Cruise’s executive vice president of engineering, will take up the role of President.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Cruise is reportedly planning to lay off employees after weeks of crises

Cruise, General Motors’ driverless car subsidiary, will soon lay off employees. According to Forbes, the company’s CEO Kyle Vogt told staff of the decision in an all-hands meeting earlier this week. Cruise hasn’t yet decided who or how many people will lose their jobs, Vogt said, but promised to provide more details in the next three weeks. The company will also conduct internal “listening sessions”, and explore building websites detailing collisions Cruise cars are involved in, Forbes said.

The news comes on the heels of multiple crises facing the company since October after a Cruise robotaxi dragged a San Francisco pedestrian thrown into its path more than 20 feet before braking to a halt. That incident caused California’s DMV to revoke Cruise’s operating permit in the state. In a statement, the DMV said that Cruise’s vehicles “are not safe for the public’s operation”, and said that Cruise had “misrepresented” information relating to the safety of its autonomous vehicles.

Weeks after the incident, Cruise, which operated in San Francisco, Austin, Houston, Dallas, Miami, and Phoenix, fully paused its driverless operations. This week, General Motors recalled Cruise’s entire fleet of 950 robotaxis.

Other reports, based on Cruise's internal safety documents, showed that the car’s algorithms had trouble identifying children, something that Cruise employees knew about.

On Wednesday, Cruise published a blog post responding to the recent events. The company said that it was looking to hire a Chief Safety Officer who would report directly to Vogt. Cruise will also hire a third-party law firm to review its response to the October incident. The firm, Quinn Emmanuel, is known for its work for Tesla and Elon Musk, CNBC noted.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Airbnb will soon let you open smart locks in its app

Winter is almost upon us and Airbnb has announced a new feature that could help folks avoid fumbling for keys while wearing a bunch of layers. Starting in the US and Canada later this year, Airbnb hosts who are in the invite-only Early Access program will be able to link compatible smart locks to their Airbnb account and generate a unique code for each reservation. Guests will then be able to input the code in the Airbnb app to open the lock. At the outset, Airbnb will support some models from Schlage, August and Yale.

That could make some Airbnb pain points much easier to deal with. Hosts won't have to worry about bad actors sharing entry codes with other people after they check out, and guests should find it more straightforward to find and enter their code. They also won't have to download a separate app if they're staying at a place that uses a compatible smart lock.

Airbnb is making a string of other changes as part of its winter update. You'll be able to access a collection of the 2 million most-loved homes on the platform. These Guest Favorites all have an average rating of above 4.9 with high marks for things like value, the check in process, cleanliness, listing accuracy, host communication and location. Hosts of Guest Favorites will all have strong track records of reliability and almost two-thirds of the listings are from Superhosts.

You'll soon start seeing a badge denoting a listing as a Guest Favorite on the listing page and in search results. There'll also be an option to filter results by Guest Favorites.

Elsewhere, you'll be able to sort reviews by recency or rating, while a new chart should make the distribution of reviews on the five-star scale easier to grok. When you leave a review, you'll be able to include more details that may be useful for context, such as where you're from, how long you stayed and whether you traveled with family, another group or pets. Airbnb is starting to roll out the reviews and Guest Favorites updates this week.

Since last year, Airbnb has been making its pricing more transparent. To that end, service fees will now be included in the prices that hosts set. According to Airbnb, that will give hosts a better idea of how much guests are paying overall. It should be easier for hosts to compare their prices to similar listings through the calendar too.

Hosts will have access to other new listing tools, such as an Ai-powered photo tour. Airbnb says its AI engine can recognize photos and assign them to up to 19 rooms to help guests better understand the layouts of properties. Hosts will be able to edit the photo tour whenever they like and pinpoint amenities in each room.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

The best travel gifts for 2023

Be it for work or play, many people are taking trips again, which makes travel-related gifts an excellent idea. Whether your loved ones are adventure-seeking globetrotters or frequent business travelers, it’s time to look into upgrading their existing on-the-go kit. We’ve curated a list of various items that all travel lovers will appreciate. Things like sleep masks and packing cubes are essential, and tech gear like battery packs and noise-canceling headphones can make the hectic parts of traveling a bit less stressful. We’re sure at least one of these will help make your loved ones’ next adventure a lot more enjoyable.

Sony WH-1000XM5

Kobo Libra 2

Retroid Pocket 3+

Roku Streaming Stick 4K

Nestout Outdoor Battery

Newvanga travel power adapter

JBL Clip 4 Eco

Loop Quiet Earplugs

Bellroy Toiletry Kit Plus

NuPhy Air75 V2

Logitech MX Anywhere 3S

Peak Design Packable Tote

Huckberry x GoRuck GR2 Slick Backpack

Sunski Seacliff Polarized Recycled Sunglasses

ExpressVPN subscription

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Cruise puts robotaxi operations on pause following California license suspension

Cruise has paused all its driverless operations, the company has announced on LinkedIn and X. The GM-backed self-driving firm explained that it's taking time to examine its "processes, systems and tools" and that it will "reflect on how [it] can better operate in a way that will earn public trust." Cruise has been thrust under the spotlight recently after the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) suspended its permits to operate driverless vehicles in the state due to several safety related issues. The California Public Utilities Commission also suspended the license giving Cruise the right to charge passengers for robotaxi rides. 

(2/3) In that spirit, we have decided to proactively pause driverless operations across all of our fleets while we take time to examine our processes, systems, and tools and reflect on how we can better operate in a way that will earn public trust.

— cruise (@Cruise) October 27, 2023

One of the latest incidents involving a Cruise vehicle happened in early October when a woman was hit by another car and was hurled in front of one of the company's driverless vehicles. Cruise's robotaxi stopped on top of her leg and pinned her underneath until first responders arrived and could extract her. The DMV suspended the company's permits a few weeks afterward. 

As CNBC notes, this move comes shortly after GM CEO Mary Barra said the automaker will support Cruise's expansion with "safety" as its "gating factor." TechCrunch says it also comes just a day after an all-hands meeting, wherein CEO Kyle Vogt told his staff that Cruise hasn't paused operations outside of California. To note, the company has driverless fleets in Phoenix, Austin, Houston, Dallas and Miami, as well. 

The company didn't elaborate on what examining its tools and systems entail and how exactly it intends to "rebuild public trust." For now, Cruise will only be deploying autonomous vehicles with drivers behind the wheel. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Cruise now offers paid robotaxi rides in Houston

Cruise has been testing its self-driving vehicles in Houston since May, and it started giving employees, along with select friends and family members, fully driverless rides in August. Now, it's offering the public the chance to catch a ride to their destinations on robotaxis with no drivers behind the wheel. The company is now onboarding Houston residents who signed up for its waitlist, and it's also encouraging those who've yet to do so to visit its website and send in a request for access. Those who do get in early will be able to hail a driverless ride through its app for a flat fare of $5 for a limited time. 

Initially, Cruise will have the authority to operate seven days a week from 9PM to 6AM only in Downtown, Midtown, East Downtown, Montrose, Hyde Park and River Oaks neighborhoods. The company typically begins by deploying a small fleet of vehicles to cover a limited number of locations in a city, but it eventually expands its vehicles' availability. 

It will probably take some time before the company can operate around the clock in Houston, though. In San Francisco, for instance, Cruise was only given permission to offer paid daytime rides in August, months after staff members started testing its 24/7 service. It's worth noting that while Cruise was able to secure permission for the expansion, the company still faces pushback from critics raising concerns about the safety of autonomous vehicle tech. One of the commissioners from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) even voted against allowing the company to operate during daytime hours, arguing that the agency didn't have enough information to accurately evaluate the impact of autonomous vehicles on first responders.

Shortly after the CPUC gave the company permission to offer paid daytime rides, the California DMV opened an investigation into a Cruise robotaxi's collision with a fire truck. The agency then asked Cruise to cut its fleet in half and to limit its driverless vehicles in operation to 50 during daytime and 150 at night while the investigation is ongoing. 

Howdy, Houston 👋 Starting today we will be welcoming members of the public to our driverless service.

From Downtown to River Oaks, EaDo to Montrose, join our waitlist to experience the magic of driverless rides:

— cruise (@Cruise) October 12, 2023

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Airbnb's next focus appears to be long-term rentals

Airbnb chief executive Brian Chesky told the Financial Times that the company is going "a little bit beyond its core business" starting next year. Chesky wants Airbnb to expand its focus and is currently planning a push into long-term rentals. The service already offers monthly rentals, but apparently, only 18 percent of gross nights booked in the second quarter of 2023 come from stays longer than 30 days. Chesky believes the company can do more to drum up interest in long-term bookings and that offering rentals for up to a year represents a "huge opportunity." 

"In this post-pandemic world, there's this   unrecognized market of a month, two months, three months, because people can work from laptops, people are going away for the summer," he told the publication. 

Chesky's plan, if executed well, could be what the company needs to be able to regain lost NYC listings. The city used to be one of the biggest Airbnb markets with the most number of listings available, but officials recently started enforcing new regulations that wiped out most of them. NYC mandated that hosts will have to lodge an application to be able to rent homes to guests for less than 30 days, and it has reportedly been slow to issue approvals. Further, hosts can only rent out homes for short-term stays if they're also staying there, and only two guests are allowed at any one time. 

In addition to putting a focus on long-term rentals, Chesky also intends to expand its experiences selection, so it could offer more "things to do on your trip." He presented more ideas under consideration to the Times, as well, including dining pop-ups and car rentals. "The second biggest asset usually in someone's life after their home is their car," he said. "That'll be the next thing." His statement hints at a business model similar to services like Turo's, which people have been calling "Airbnb for cars."

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

NYC’s ‘de facto ban’ on Airbnb is already removing listings

Those firing up Airbnb to look for a short-term rental in New York City right now may find the pickings a bit slim. Officials in the city have started enforcing new regulations mandating that hosts will have to file a registration application — and meet a set of requirements — to be able to rent homes to guests for less than 30 days. Hosts can only rent out homes for short-term stays if they're also staying there, and only two guests are allowed at a time. These requirements are part of old and existing rules on rentals, however, and only the Short-Term Rental Registration Law itself is new.

NYC's Office of Special Enforcement said on its website that on September 5, it started collaborating with booking platforms like Airbnb and Vrbo to ensure that they're honoring the city's verification system. These companies will now have to check whether hosts listing their homes for stays less than 30 days have been approved by authorities. According to The New York Times, only 257 application registrations have been approved so far out of the 3,250 that were lodged as of August 28. That would mean thousands of listings could be removed from Airbnb, seeing as the company estimates that almost 15,000 hosts had short-term rental listings across NYC as recent as last month. 

Airbnb called the law a "de facto ban" on short-term rentals and filed a lawsuit, which was dismissed last month, to try and block its enforcement. Theo Yedinsky, the company's global policy director, said the rules "are a blow to [NYC's] tourism economy" and that "[t]he city is sending a clear message to millions of potential visitors who will now have fewer accommodation options when they visit New York City: you are not welcome." 

The city's authorities argued that enforcing the new law would help prevent housing "being lost to the practice of illegal" short-term rentals. Hosts renting out homes for short periods contributes to the housing shortage, they said, and makes it more expensive to live in the city as a result. 

Airbnb told The Times and CNN that reservations with a check-in on or before December 1 will not be cancelled, but the company will refund the fees it received related to those stays to comply with the new rules. Meanwhile, all bookings starting on December 2 will be cancelled, and guests will be refunded. In addition, hosts will find their listings converted to long-term rentals only if they allow bookings of 30 days or more on the platform. All listings that only allow short-term bookings will be deactivated. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

United Airlines has grounded all flights due to a 'computer issue'

You might be in for a lengthy wait if you were planning on catching a United Airlines flight today. The company has issued a nationwide ground stop because of a "computer issue," as ABC News first reported. "United Airlines asked the FAA to pause the airline’s departures nationwide," the Federal Aviation Administration told Engadget.

United wrote in a statement on X (formerly Twitter) that it's "experiencing a system-wide technology issue." Aircraft that are on the ground will stay there for now and airborne flights will carry on to their destinations. The company pledged to share more details as they become available and to get travelers on their way as soon as possible.

We are experiencing a systemwide technology issue and are holding all aircraft at their departure airports. Flights that are already airborne are continuing to their destination as planned. We will share more information as it becomes available. Thank you for your patience as we…

— United Airlines (@united) September 5, 2023

United has grounded flights following a similar issue in the UK just last week. An air traffic control glitch led to the cancellation of a fifth of UK departures and 27 percent of flights that were due to arrive into the country last Monday, when the issue occurred

This article originally appeared on Engadget at