Deployments were delayed. De- velopers shifted toward delivery. Researchers expressed skepticism of business models.
Robotaxis encountered a rough road this year, one perhaps punctuated with a plunge to the bottom of the Trough of Disillusionment, the low point on the "Hype Cycle" report on new technologies maintained by global consulting firm Gartner.
But in the twilight days of a beleaguered year, robotaxis appear on more stable footing. One sign of at least incremental progress: a proliferation of operations that involved no human safety backups.
In mid-October, Waymo expanded the scope of its rider-only operations. In a matter of days, Cruise received a permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles to go driverless, and then it did so in November. Early this month in China, AutoX began rider-only service in Shenzhen, and Baidu did so in Beijing. Russian tech company Yandex has nobody behind the wheel in its Ann Arbor, Mich., pilot project, and Voyage accomplished the milestone in December. Motional received a permit from Nevada authorities to kick-start driverless testing.