The day may soon come when robotic taxis finally become a reality for the average American to experience.

General Motors-backed autonomous driving startup Cruise announced Tuesday that it has opened its fleet of self-driving cars to the public in San Francisco.

While capacity is limited with only a handful of cars available, the ability to sit in the back seat of a car that magically drives itself is no longer reserved for a few engineers, test drivers, and GM CEO Mary Bar.

"We're launching a sign-up page on our website today so you can soon get a ride without a driver, and it's free for now," Kyle Vogt, interim CEO and co-founder of Cruise, said in a post. "We are starting with a small number of riders and will increase as more cars become available."

In a letter to shareholders, CEO Barra said, "This important milestone brings Cruise even closer to its goal of offering its first paid voyages and achieving $50 billion in annual revenue by the end of the decade."

Hello San Francisco, ready to drive? Be one of the first to experience the magic of driverless driving.

— Cruise (@Cruise) February 1, 2022
This follows an announcement in July by Ford and Lyft that they will introduce robotic taxis in Miami using the expertise of autonomous driving startup Argo AI. As recently as September, Intel subsidiary Mobileye announced its plan to launch a similar commercial fleet in Germany later this year. Meanwhile, Alphabet's self-driving unit Waymo has been transporting passengers in Phoenix as part of its Waymo One service since 2020.

The race to develop autonomous driving technologies has been longer than many initially expected some five years ago. Tesla CEO Elon Musk predicted that by the end of 2020 he would already have 1 million robotic taxis on the road.

However, designing a car to drive itself and gaining regulatory approval to bring the technology to public roads are just two variables in the equation, though critical milestones must be met.

SoftBank investment

A much bigger question is whether a profitable business can be built around it, as the economics are challenging even after subtracting the cost of a human driver.