An incident in which a Cruise robotaxi made a booboo and "tapped" the back of a Muni bus in the Haight last month has prompted General Motors to do a "recall" — which in the days of internet-connected vehicles just amounted to a software update.
In a filing with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, GM says that the Cruise vehicle "inaccurately predicted how the bus would move as it pulled out of a bus stop on March 23." The articulated bus — one of those double-length buses with an accordion middle — allegedly slowed down as it pulled out of the bus stop it had been in, and the autonomous vehicle apparently wasn't familiar with how these things work.
The company said in the filing, "Cruise determined that the collision was caused by an issue related to prediction of the unique movements of articulated vehicles in rare circumstances."
As the Associated Press reports, Cruise has stressed that this was only a "fender bender" and there were no injuries.
They said no similar incidents had occurred at any other time, and that this would not happen again following the software update, which already occurred on March 25.
This little embarassment for Cruise and GM comes just as the company, and competitor Waymo, are preparing to push ahead to apply for broader permits to operate in San Francisco. Currently, Cruise is just offering robotaxi rides via their app between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., in a certain, quieter swath of the city that includes the western neighborhoods, Pac Heights, part of the Western Addition, and some of Nob Hill.
Waymo is also operating on a limited permit, but its robocars have more freedom to roam the city — but only a select few "testers" have access to the Waymo One app, which is still doing free rides.
The Muni-bumping incident goes to show that, even after a decade of development and years of testing autonomous vehicle technology on our city's streets, there are still plenty of weird scenarios the cars might not know how to handle.
As the Associated Press reported this week, its reporters had been taken on weird rides past their destination, unable to get a Cruise car to stop. And in one instance, a reporter exited a Cruise car and it then sat motionless in the middle of a busy street for an extended period because one of its doors hadn't fully closed properly.
In January, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA), asked the state to halt any expansion of permits for Cruise and Waymo due to 92 separate incidents of the cars behaving badly and/or jamming up traffic for no reason.
Experts have contended for years now that these cars are likely to do just fine on freeways in pretty predictable situations, but not so much in chaotic city environments.
"The expected things are easy, but it's the unexpected things that humans react to in real time that are a concern," said transportation expert Nico Larco, speaking to the AP. "Best case, it will just causes confusion, havoc, congestion if the cars stop in the middle of the road. But the worst cases could actually be harmful to someone."