My First Ride in a True Self-Driving Car

Trusting my life to a 3,000 lb AI-powered robot

Thomas Smith
The Generator


Photo by the author

Laden with shopping bags and clutching a half-eaten empanada, I furiously tapped at the screen of my iPhone as I walked briskly towards a glowing icon marking the pickup point just off San Francisco’s Embarcadero.

When I arrived, I found a gleaming white Jaguar vehicle bristling with sensors and topped by a rapidly spinning laser awaiting me.

I climbed into the passenger seat and pressed a button on the dashboard. The car slowly merged into oncoming traffic, its steering wheel spookily rotating and its turn signal clacking.

The driver’s seat was empty. That was my first time riding in a true self-driving car.

Broken Promises

Self-driving cars feel like one of those technologies that’s perpetually just over the horizon.

In 2015, Elon Musk famously pitched his Tesla Autopilot system as the world’s first foray into self-driving tech. Nearly a decade later, the system still doesn’t work.

Despite costing thousands of dollars to active, Tesla’s Autopilot drives about as well as the adaptive cruise control in my six-year-old Honda Odyssey minivan.