Kyle Vogt is not a good driver. He’s more the type who steers with one hand, and appears to pay more attention to the conversation than to the road. One bright day last September, as he drove his Audi S4 near his San Francisco office, a Ford Mustang sped up and headed straight for his right rear fender. At the last possible moment, Vogt jerked the steering wheel and narrowly avoided a certain crash. “Close call,” he said, laughing. Over in the passenger seat, I started breathing again.
Mere minutes earlier, though, Vogt was driving more safely. Or rather he was not-driving more safely, while demonstrating the handiwork of his company, Cruise Automation, which in early 2015 will become the first company to sell technology that enables cars to drive themselves. On a stretch of Highway 101, east of downtown San Francisco, Vogt had clicked a button between the front seats, turned a dial to adjust the speed, taken his hands off the wheel, moved his feet back from the gas pedal and brake–and then turned to look me straight in the face, while, at 60 miles per hour, the scenery ticked by.