When I was asked to commute to work in an autonomous vehicle for a week instead of driving, my curiosity was piqued. A week in which I wouldn’t have to worry about gas, parking or bipping? I was all in.
Waymo and Cruise driverless vehicles have become a frequent spectacle on San Francisco streets. I, myself, can’t help but peek at each passing car with wonder—and sometimes a little annoyance. Their operation still mystifies and polarizes residents and city leaders. But as robotaxis are on the cusp of potential unlimited expansion across the city, pending a California Public Utilities Commission vote Thursday, it’s more important than ever to demystify how, exactly, these self-driving machines work.
Waiting for my first Waymo to arrive, I couldn’t help but feel a little giddy. A ride is a ride, right? Though it may not be the Matterhorn at Disneyland, this felt new, and I didn’t know what to expect. I spent my first ride mostly gawking at the robotic spectacle from the inside—and I definitely bragged to my mom over Facetime from the car.
Without having to keep my eyes on the road and hands on the wheel like I do when I’m driving, I found myself with lots of free time. And unlike in a ride-share like an Uber, I was alone, so did not have perhaps the same inhibitions about what I could or should do in the vehicle—though it’s worth noting that Waymo does have cameras on the inside of its cars.
In the name of journalism, I sought to test out the best ways to multitask during my roughly 15-minute commute, from finishing my morning routine to making lunch. I think I made the most of my hands-free rides, but you can be the judge of that. Here’s what I got up to.
I left my place in a bit of a rush one morning and was disheveled when the Waymo pulled up around the corner from my apartment. Thankfully, the robotaxi will wait a few minutes before driving off without you. I took shotgun and had just enough time to pour myself a bowl of cereal before we took off. After ingesting the most important meal of the day from the passenger seat, I had the rest of the drive to brush and braid my hair.
I don’t often set aside enough time for myself in the morning to make food for later in the day, either, so I knew this was an opportunity worth seizing. I toted with me PB&J supplies and prepared the nostalgic sandwich classic during the ride. It's worth it, as long as you bring along a flat surface like a cutting board.
Life gets chaotic, and I will be the first to admit I don’t nurture my hobbies and creative interests as much as I’d like. Though it was only for a short bit, I couldn’t help but feel accomplished reading (for pleasure) on the road before getting into the grind of my workday. The morning’s pick was Cultish by Amanda Montell. Would not recommend if you are prone to carsickness.
Perhaps my favorite of the activities I tried behind in a driverless car: sleeping. Without the judgment of a driver, I propped my pillow up to catch a few last minute zzz’s before getting to the office. If you saw my snoozing face pressed up against the window—no, you didn’t.
Morgan Ellis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org