Historic weekend as driverless cars navigate through streets of San Francisco

Throughout the city, small groups took pictures at intersections and stop signs to admire the driverless cars

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Sunday, August 13, 2023
Historic weekend as driverless cars navigate through streets of SF
People took pictures of driverless cars which are now able to operate 24/7 picking up paying passengers in San Francisco.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- It's a historic weekend in San Francisco. Throughout the city, small groups took pictures at intersections and stop signs to admire driverless cars, which are now able to operate 24/7 picking up paying passengers.

"It's amazing, we love it. Safest thing. My kid loves it. Big life saver," says San Francisco resident Beth Yemane, who has been using Waymo for months during its test phase. She feels there is a level of safety she doesn't get with a taxi.

"It will warn you if there are cyclists or cars coming by. So, there is no chance of you actually opening the door and hitting somebody on the side. That's one example," explains Yemane.

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Jeff Brink, who also lives in San Francico, was giving his Michigan relatives a tour of the city when they saw a driverless car near Union Square. Brink downloaded the Waymo app at that moment. He has seen driverless cars being tested over the past few years, and says he is ready for his turn.

"They got a lot of data, and lot of technology, and background that they've gathering over those years. So yeah, I would trust it," he says.

"This is one sign to show the world that if you really want to see the future, come to San Francisco," says Professor Ahmed Banafa, a tech expert at San Jose State University.

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Professor Banafa says if San Francisco wants to be the leader in AI technologies, then it needs projects like driverless cars to showcase what can be done.

But critics argue that the technology isn't ready. Some of the strongest opposition comes from the San Francisco police and fire departments. On Friday, just one day after winning approval from the California Public Utilities Commission to operate like a taxi or other rideshare company, video posted to social media shows a driverless car interfering in a fire response.

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The CPUC will decide if Cruise and Waymo can begin charging passengers to use their self-driving vehicles in San Francisco.

But Professor Banafa states that most of the problems require a software fix. And with rapid advancements in AI, it's best for companies to learn as they go.

"Most of the problems they are facing is software related. It's a bug, it's a glitch, it's a very complicated software. But the AI is the core of this technology," he says. "(The companies) know the problems. The users, the public are reporting those kinds of problems. Now it is on the part of the company. They have to be fast and to solve those problems. Patch (that) software."

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Over at Cal State East Bay, Professor Moayed Daneshyari says there will be a learning curve with the public. But one of his concerns is that the technology will outpace regulations. And in the example of the emergency vehicle blocked by a driverless car, he asks, "Who is responsible?"

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"In such cases, (is) the company responsible? The coder who wrote that algorithm, will be responsible? Or somebody else?" asks Professor Daneshyari.

Many problems are yet to be resolved. But as for passengers this weekend, one man who jumped into a driverless Waymo, yelled out: "So far, so good!"

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