SIGHTING: Robotaxis in West Seattle’s future? Cruise sighting

(Cruise vehicle in San Francisco – photo courtesy Cruise)

ORIGINAL TUESDAY STORY: Probably not the first self-driving car tested in West Seattle, but it’s the first one we’ve heard about: Craig emailed to say, “Spotted a Cruise self-driving car on Harbor Ave today. It caught my attention for its ‘sudden stops’ warning.” He notes that GeekWire reported on Cruise beginning its Seattle testing on Monday; its story notes that Cruise is the third autonomous-vehicle company to get a testing permit from SDOT. The permit requires that a human ride along at all times just in case of trouble. So far, Cruise’s self-driving cars serve as “robotaxis” in San Francisco, Phoenix, and Austin. Autoweek says Cruise’s testing is a prelude to doing that here too.

THURSDAY UPDATE: We received this clarification today from SDOT spokesperson Mariam Ali:

Cruise did not submit a permit application and did not give prior notice to the City regarding their operations. The City became aware on the morning when Cruise’s operations commenced. Upon learning of Cruise’s activities, SDOT initiated communication with the company. During this communication, Cruise informed SDOT that they will be conducting manually driven mapping operations from August 28 to September 1. SDOT’s understanding is that following September 1, Cruise will withdraw vehicles from Seattle. SDOT intends to collaborate with Cruise to gain a better understanding of their forthcoming plans and the schedule for their testing activities in Seattle.

Cruise does not need a permit for manually driven mapping. Cruise will need to obtain a permit from SDOT prior to testing their autonomous driving system, and will also be required to obtain a permit if they choose to self-certify with the Washington State Department of Licensing’s autonomous vehicle registration process.

64 Replies to "SIGHTING: Robotaxis in West Seattle's future? Cruise sighting"

  • Mike August 29, 2023 (8:46 pm)

    Ugh, these are not ready for public roads yet.

    • 1994 August 29, 2023 (9:57 pm)

      Waymo does this in San Francisco in Jaguars that near $200K in price, has 250 in the SF fleet. See The New York Times article. 

      • Mike August 29, 2023 (10:47 pm)

        They’re also in Bellevue and Kirkland.

    • s August 30, 2023 (11:07 am)

      Mike, did you even read the article that you linked? It’s much more even-handed than your comment. Humans are notoriously emotional, bad at interpreting data, and bad at making decisions. Your comment is an example, and technology is the cure.

  • valvashon August 29, 2023 (9:52 pm)

    Start saving up those orange cones…

    • Kt August 30, 2023 (5:16 am)

      Ha, I was going to post a similar thing.  Agreed.  No place for those here!

  • OrangeCones August 29, 2023 (10:14 pm)

    I am so with you ValVashon…

  • DriveMyCar August 29, 2023 (10:28 pm)

    Come on, folks, let’s not start hating on these just yet. Imagine how useful this will be to older folks or the disabled, or for anyone who needs to make a quick trip that transit or a bike can’t handle? I am very happy to see this technology gaining ground. 

    • TechnoDistopia August 30, 2023 (3:02 am)

      we should build a future where quick trips should never involve a car. robotaxis for the situations you bring up would be expensive. tech investors are eventually going to expect return, and the vulnerable group of elderly or disabled means most likely a cost burden on the tax payed to line Silicon Valley pockets. instead, having a publicly accessible transportation network is what’ll provide mobility equitably.

      • John August 30, 2023 (3:19 pm)

        While public transit can be a solution for a lot of people, it doesn’t work for some. For example, it’s very difficult to walk to a bus stop to buy groceries, and then have to walk back with all those groceries, even with able-bodied people. This is why cities have to offer their own vans for the elderly and the disabled. An affordable version of that, if the human cost can be eliminated, could be one of the solutions to this.

    • Tired WS Mom August 30, 2023 (7:04 am)

      No… that’s what Uber is for.  Or public transit. Not an autonomous vehicle that has been known for running down pedestrians. What’s re the laws of someone gets hit by one of these? Who gets charged with manslaughter? The ghost of a driver? Or the company? I’m assuming no one would get changed and they’d call it a “freak accident “ either way. I am not comfortable walking our streets with my kids with these things on the road. 

      • Neighbor August 30, 2023 (12:27 pm)

        Robots do not have a monopoly on running over pedestrians.

      • Me August 30, 2023 (5:59 pm)

        I’m excited for this because these have to perform better than humans to get approved. How many are killed by drunk drivers everyday? I’m more worried about those than robotaxis any day!

    • Deathmachines August 30, 2023 (7:12 am)

      This service already exists through SDOT . These are luxury goods for the ruling class being beta tested by putting us at risk. More cars, even self driving, are not the answer. 

    • KM August 30, 2023 (7:37 am)

      Why is the solution a for-profit company with unsafe technology? Is that really going to be accessible to everyone?

      • Blbl August 30, 2023 (11:08 am)

        KM, Because they are the ones investing in these advances. It would be great if it were our government doing this, but seeing as it can’t even keep our bridges safe, I’m glad someone else is doing it. It will be accessible to everyone if we make the government regulate it for everyone. 

    • DH August 30, 2023 (7:58 am)

      This is not what we need. We need more and better public transportation including for people that are older or that have disabilities. I have my orange cones ready. 

    • ACG August 30, 2023 (8:10 am)

      I see what you’re saying about populations that might need transportation options. I guess I would prefer to choose hiring an actual person to drive me via taxi, Uber, Lyft, etc. I feel I would rather hire a human driven vehicle so that I can help support an actual person’s income rather than hire and pay that money to a robotaxi. But that’s what I’d personally prefer to do, and others may not feel that way. 

      • Seth August 30, 2023 (10:02 am)

        Nothing is stopping you from still hiring an uber driver.  But dont force what you prefer on everyone.  Some of us would feel safer with a autonomous car.  The point is to have options.

        • Nitro August 30, 2023 (4:15 pm)

          Jeez, Seth!  Relax. Nowhere in that comment (ACG’s) did they try to “force” someone to take an Uber. They explained their position and acknowledged that others might want to choose the autonomous option. 

    • Christopher B. August 30, 2023 (8:14 am)

      “…Imagine how useful this will be to older folks or the disabled.”Or drunk people leaving bars, or people who can’t restrain themselves from texting behind the wheel, etc. I can see a lot of potential use cases in which this technology can improve safety and mobility for everyone, even the Luddites.  Given all of the horrible, dangerous driving I see on local roads and freeways, I’m not so ready to have an uninformed, knee jerk reaction against them. And whether pro or con I consider the “traffic cone people” disabling these vehicles  to be despicable vandals.  If you don’t want to use robot axis then don’t. But just because one doesn’t like something, it doesn’t give them the right to disrespect someone else’s private property with harassment and vandalism.  

      • Blbl August 30, 2023 (9:43 am)

        Well said, Christopher B. Folks here sound like doomsayers complaining about any innovation. The studies are irrefutable that self driving cars are safer than humans. I welcome technological advances and increased options for the public. These aren’t instead of public transit or ride share, they will be an additional, safer, and more convenient option. 

        • Jort August 30, 2023 (12:31 pm)

          Really?! The studies are “irrefutable?” Gosh, I was unaware of a full-scale study comparing identical driving profiles between human and automated driving across a range of environments, weather conditions, infrastructure elements and other important diverse variables, much less one that was literally “irrefutable!” Has that study come out?! That would be really fascinating to read! Because the only studies that I’ve seen, so far, are mostly at the behest of tech companies developing the cars (which are always just around the corner from working, right?!) and they are looking at extremely narrow scenarios. (For example, and this is common in these “studies,” in an “automated driving situation” where a driver must be ready to take over when something might go wrong, the study can very easily say, “the automated system didn’t mess up, wrecks only happened when the driver was supposed to intervene!”) I’m very curious to learn more about how a complex AI system is being rigorously studied in a controlled experiment to gauge its safety relative to human driving behavior! Oh, I’m sorry, but anecdotal and wishful-thinking studies actually would not count on this one. Please, show me this “irrefutable” study! Please, I would love to read it and get educated. Please!

          • Blbl August 30, 2023 (2:35 pm)

            Yes, irrefutable, Jort. Start with NHTSA’s website for the overwhelming amount of data and conclusive studies on the subject. They have been going on literally (note the correct use of that word) every day for years. 

          • Jort August 30, 2023 (3:54 pm)

            On my gosh! Wow! Please, please do send me a link to that study. Please! I’d love to see it. Yeah! The irrefutable one! Please, I’m sure it’s somewhere on the NHTSA website but, gosh, I’m just not finding that peer-reviewed research! Please, help me find it. It’s so irrefutable that I have just GOT to see it, surely it’s going to really educate me! And I could suuuurreeee use some learnin’! Come on! 

          • Blbl August 30, 2023 (4:49 pm)

   you go, Jort. You can filter the 66 documents to find studies and pure data from the summary reports and other documents. 

        • TreeHouse August 31, 2023 (10:45 am)

          BLBL, I spent some time going through the NHTSA website directory you provided and found literally (note the correct use of the word) no studies indicating that self driving cars were definitively safer than human drivers. Maybe I missed it but I am genuinely interested in reading these studies you talk about. Can you reply with a couple direct NHTSA study links? I’m open to changing my mind if these actually exist. 

      • SlimJim August 30, 2023 (10:12 am)

        Hey Christopher, try editing you post to say this and see how it sits with you: “Or drunk people leaving bars, or people who can’t restrain themselves from texting behind the wheel, etc. (who could just as easily take taxis that already exist and employ a largely immigrant workforce who really need to work and find this job well-suited to them)”.

    • KinesthesiaAmnesia August 30, 2023 (9:23 am)

      It’s my understanding that autonomous rideshare vehicles are here to replace people-driven rideshare vehicles, taxis and disrupt public transportation systems. Autonomous rideshare trips in other towns testing the service are generally not free, and cost the same as being driven somewhere by a human driver. Those cost savings go to the company and not the customer. Autonomous vehicles have killed and disabled pedestrians (NHTSA says 18 at least fatalities). Having worked for large tech firms, I feel cautious about our public streets being used as “test & learn” “sandboxes” for private interests and corporate gain.What additional benefits do autonomous rideshare vehicles bring to older folks and the disabled that don’t already happen from using a people-driven rideshare vehicle, taxi, or public transit? As a disabled Seattleite married to a senior citizen, I am genuinely curious what the real benefits are for us of autonomous vehicles being tested in our area.

      • Seth August 30, 2023 (10:04 am)

        How many people have been killed by human drivers (hint its way more in both total and per mile driven)?  I know atleast a few high profile crashes here in west seattle in the past couple weeks.  

      • Blbl August 30, 2023 (10:10 am)

        Well, for one, KinesthesiaAmnesia, an automatic driver can’t rape, rob, or kidnap its customer. As a woman who has felt extremely uncomfortable driving alone at night in an unfamiliar place with a strange taxi or rideshare driver, and as a woman who has felt extremely uncomfortable waiting for public transportation and traveling on public transportation with creepy, drugged out, mentally or physically ill riders, I welcome another option. 

      • Me August 30, 2023 (6:03 pm)

        Which autonomous companies caused these fatalities? (Btw, Tesla is not the same ‘autonomous’ as Waymo or Cruise. 

    • Jort August 30, 2023 (11:07 am)

      I, too, look forward to my jetpack and flying car. Yay! The tech industry’s grandiose, profit-driven promises surely will come true this time. Yeah! If Elon Musk promises something, then, gosh, it just has to be true!

  • BlairJ August 30, 2023 (8:17 am)

    How do driverless vehicles respond to police officers directing traffic?  I know they stop when they see a pedestrian in front of them, but what if that pedestrian is a police officer directing the vehicle to drive on the left side of the double yellow line?

  • gw August 30, 2023 (9:00 am)

    But just imagine if there were cars on the road actually beholden to the speed limits… especially on the WS bridge.

  • Brian August 30, 2023 (9:12 am)

    No thanks. Get this garbage off the streets, please. 

    • Blbl August 30, 2023 (10:13 am)

      Thanks for that thoughtful insight, Brian. I bet you’ve never once feared for your life or safety in a cab, bus, train, or at a bus stop. Must be nice. 

      • Brian August 30, 2023 (10:38 am)

        That’s a cool argument you’re having with someone you 100% made up in your head. It’s not me, though. 

      • Tony August 30, 2023 (10:39 am)

        Addressing your many replies with this single one — This is Merica, you can legally choose to arm yourself to the teeth just about everywhere but an airplane (til you grab your checked luggage) and a federal building. Take advantage. How about the fear that a person with bad intentions will traffic-cone your Cruise and proceed to do whatever awful things they want to…your rebuttals aren’t getting at the core of the issue at hand. The last thing we need to add to our already dangerous and wasteful roads are big-tech driven (literally) robots that won’t be road-ready in any of our lifetimes. We’ve been sold on the flying car since the car was invented and this ain’t it. 

  • BUDDSMOM August 30, 2023 (9:24 am)


  • April August 30, 2023 (9:53 am)

    I will never use a self driving car! They are bad at driving and kill people!!! We don’t need them or want them!

    • Blbl August 30, 2023 (10:14 am)

      So do people, April. 

      • Tony August 30, 2023 (11:11 am)

        If I’m going down let it be by the hand of my fellow man, not some half-baked robot shamelessly shilled by greedy billionaires 

        • Blbl August 30, 2023 (1:09 pm)

          LOL. Who do you think own Uber, Lyft, and car companies? They are all greedy billionaires. But even NHTSA agrees automated vehicles are safer than humans. Sign me up. 

          • Tony August 30, 2023 (8:13 pm)

            The NHTSA isn’t some infallible, independent organization — it’s in the pocket of all the above billionaires you listed 😂 and no kidding, literally everything is essentially owned by or making money for the greedy billionaire class, safety issues be damned. Why would this be any different? My Tesla with FSD constantly tries to ram me into curbs 100 feet before my upcoming turn, no thanks. 

          • Scarlett August 31, 2023 (1:19 pm)

            True, but then millions of shareholders have these companies in their portfolio and I seen no urgency from them to divest.  I’ve learned to take a lot of sanctimonious outrage from people with a very, very large grain of salt.  Why? Because after you’ve been around the block a few times, you realize that, in the end, everyone is a greedy sell-out.   

  • Wendell August 30, 2023 (12:21 pm)

    Does this mean I have to download yet another app?

    • 1994 August 30, 2023 (10:24 pm)

      For sure that is a YES! Wendell….I don’t own a smart phone, too many apps.

  • North Admiral Neighbor August 30, 2023 (12:26 pm)

    Curious how long it will be before the first accident. Saw it today and it failed to yield in any of the uncontrolled intersections in the North Admiral neighborhood (to be fair, most humans also don’t navigate uncontrolled intersections correctly either) but this didn’t even slow down

    • TZ August 30, 2023 (1:03 pm)

      Another article makes me think this could have been a human driver. “Cruise, the self-driving subsidiary of General Motors, said Monday
      it has begun manual data collection in Seattle and Washington, DC, the
      first step toward launching commercial services in the cities.Data
      collection involves manually driving a robotaxi around to grab
      information on the local driving environment and climate. The next step
      will be mapping the new cities.” <;

      • WSB August 30, 2023 (1:26 pm)

        As noted above, Cruise is required to have humans in the cars while testing in Seattle.

    • Rhonda August 30, 2023 (1:32 pm)

      These are infinitely safer than most cars with drivers these days. We all drive around West Seattle and smell the marijuana smoke from drivers using behind the wheel. We also see the speeders, reckless drivers, distracted drivers, and drivers stumbling out of bars. Ad to that drivers with expired eyeglass prescriptions, overlapping medications, parents yelling at their kids in the back seats, street racing teenagers in 600 HP Honda Civics, exhausted drivers, angry drivers, etc, etc… 

      • Tony August 30, 2023 (8:14 pm)

        And some Robotaxis will magically solve all of that how exactly??

        • Rhonda August 31, 2023 (7:54 pm)

          I didn’t say it would solve those issues, I just said robotaxis are safer.

  • Jort August 30, 2023 (12:42 pm)

    Here, with “automated” cars, we see again the psychology at work in the minds of so many car drivers. Unwilling to see the foundational and insurmountable geometrical limitations of automobiles, themselves, drivers instead gleefully grasp on to any kind of snake-oil technological innovation that purports to be a solution to this fundamentally and literally unsolvable issue. You see this all the time, “if people would move out of the left lane, traffic would be solved.” “If they re-timed the lights better, traffic would be solved.” “If they add more lanes to this area, traffic would be solved.” The issue of traffic is one of too many cars in a space that can not handle that many cars. This is a math problem, and it has an easy solution: reduce the cars. 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 will never equal 2. But, when you design nearly every single aspect of the entirety of your society around cars, this kind of magical thinking can bring the mind comfort when it’s faced with an uncomfortable reality: that the only way to “solve” traffic is to reduce it. That’s a pretty hard pill to swallow, and much, much easier to believe in the fantasy that innovation will fix everything without us changing a thing about our failed, deadly transportation planning. I would be very, very happy to be wrong about the self-driving car “solving” all our problems, but I won’t be, because the problem isn’t the way the cars are driven, it’s the space that the cars take up and the near-requirement society places on people to have them. 

  • Lagartija Nick August 30, 2023 (12:51 pm)

    Fascinating, a second comment thread today where traffic deaths are an acceptable trade off for convenience. Some of you are truly in a death cult.

  • WS Guy August 30, 2023 (1:13 pm)

    Not only to I oppose robocars, I insist on the return of human elevator operators.  As everyone knew in 1906, elevators are dangerous and the operators deserve their jobs.

  • Blbl August 30, 2023 (2:42 pm)

    I will never ride in a flying machine! They kill people! (We are just ranting against things we don’t fully understand, right?)

  • Nitro August 30, 2023 (4:18 pm)

    Interesting links posted by WSB and commenters. Thanks all!

  • bradley August 30, 2023 (4:22 pm)

    I’m surprised our Progressive Union supporters haven’t come in in opposition to the loss of jobs from the Gig-Work force they so love to support.

  • The King August 30, 2023 (5:04 pm)

    I had mentioned these were coming a few years ago on this blog. The comments were not very nice and here we are. The litigation for self driving buses has been done in China and cars in Japan for years. The US is behind and in some ways this has been intentional as around 33 million jobs here are driving related. It’s just a matter of time, complain all you want, they’ve been testing in the US for quite a while to get to this point, even if you didn’t care to look into it, which is what I’m getting based on the comment reactions 

  • WSB August 31, 2023 (2:23 pm)

    Added to story above: A clarification from SDOT, which says Cruise has not applied for a permit under SDOT’s autonomous-vehicle program, yet, and told the city it’s only doing mapping right now, through Friday, with human drivers, which doesn’t require a permit.

Sorry, comment time is over.