How the Bay Area took over the self-driving car business

 By David R. Baker and Carolyn Said : sfchronicle – excerpt

The small white cars topped with what look like stubby metal antennas swarm in and out of an unmarked San Francisco building like bees around a hive.

They’re a daily sight in their South of Market neighborhood, to the point that smartphone-obsessed pedestrians rarely even notice them. Passersby also may not realize that much of the time, the cars are driving themselves.

These cars, equal parts Detroit and Silicon Valley, are the creation of a San Francisco startup, Cruise Automation, and General Motors, which bought Cruise last year for well over half a billion dollars. They are just one component of a burgeoning autonomous vehicle industry that has developed with startling speed, one that could, very soon, fundamentally reshape our economy, our cities and our society.

For close to a century, vehicles that could drive themselves belonged to a future that forever seemed a few decades away, a jet-pack dream just out of reach. Now the technology is advancing fast enough that many of those developing it predict human-driven cars will be obsolete within a generation…

The creative engine for this world-shifting technology, its main laboratory and testing ground, is the Bay Area. More than 60 companies in the region — some based here, others drawn from as far away as China, France and Japan — are chasing the dream of robotic driving.

They include some of Silicon Valley’s biggest names: Tesla, Apple and, of course, Google, the Internet search giant whose willingness to throw its vast resources into self-driving research over the past decade forced skeptical automakers to follow.

.. (more)

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