It’s Been a Dumpster Fire Week for Self-Driving Cars

Challenging times ahead for both Waymo and Cruise

Cruise robotaxi
A Cruise self-driving car in 2019
Andrej Sokolow/picture alliance via Getty Images

For years, numerous automotive industry executives have pointed to self-driving vehicles as the future of cars and trucks. The pathway to that highly-touted future once looked clear, but it’s become far more obscured as of late. Consider Tesla’s massive recall for its Full Self Driving feature, or reports that Apple is scaling back its own self-driving ambitions. And then there’s this week, which had enough bad news to make even the staunchest self-driving advocates ponder a U-turn.

To start, there’s the matter of the burning Waymo. As The Verge’s Wes Davis reported, a San Francisco crowd vandalized an empty self-driving car from the company in question before setting the whole thing on fire. Davis pointed to “simmering tension” within the city and, specifically, its residents, many of whom would prefer human drivers on the city’s streets (and who have some very tangible reasons to be upset with the company).

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Waymo isn’t the only automotive vehicle company having a bad week. Last year, in the wake of a thoroughly unsettling pedestrian-dragging incident, Cruise’s founders resigned. Now, as Reuters reports (via Autoblog), the person in charge of hardware at the company has also made his exit. Carl Jenkins alluded to his departure in a LinkedIn post, and Reuters later confirmed he left the company.

“While we’re in a transitional period right now, all of us here at Cruise are getting to define what comes next — that’s an incredibly exciting place to be,” said the company’s co-president, Mo Elshenawy, in an internal communication. In the same communication, Elshenawy also spoke of the importance of “improving our detection systems, compute and sensor suites for current and future programs.” It’s an understandable goal in the short term. But it also makes you wonder if self-driving cars will have too steep an incline to overcome at this point.

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