Is the era of robotaxis over before it ever really started?

As the nascent self-driving ride service industry gears up to expand beyond San Francisco, some tech and transportation experts say it's time to pump the breaks

Protest against robotaxis
(Image credit: David Paul Morris / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

For as much as dyspeptic futurists grumble that "they promised us jet-packs" whenever it comes time to measure the utopian predictions of the past century with the decidedly more mundane present, the reality, as author William Gibson famously said, is that "the future is already here. It's just not evenly distributed yet." Consider the self-driving car: long a staple of retrofuturist forecasts, automated vehicles are slowly working their way from the pages of science fiction onto America's roadways — particularly in San Francisco, where a burgeoning driverless taxi network has become the "tip of the spear" for the self-driving auto industry, according to Professor Missy Cummings, director of George Mason University's Autonomy and Robotics Center, in The Atlantic.

As more cities prepare for an influx of driverless taxis, the Bay Area's case study has raised questions about safety, efficacy, and the need for robotic vehicles at large. Are the speed bumps in this robotaxi rollout enough to derail the nascent industry as a whole?

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Rafi Schwartz, The Week US

Rafi Schwartz has worked as a politics writer at The Week since 2022, where he covers elections, Congress and the White House. He was previously a contributing writer with Mic focusing largely on politics, a senior writer with Splinter News, a staff writer for Fusion's news lab, and the managing editor of Heeb Magazine, a Jewish life and culture publication. Rafi's work has appeared in Rolling Stone, GOOD and The Forward, among others.