While the recall appears temporary, Cruise is pulling all of its 950 self-driving robotaxis from the streets, and a separate report shows Cruise internal communications acknowledged safety issues around children and holes in roads.
A very bad phase for the self-driving robotaxi company Cruise has just become a worse phase. On the fateful night of October 2, a Cruise vehicle ran over a pedestrian and then dragged her, leading to a federal probe by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) into the self-driving cars’ behavior. Then the California DMV suspended Cruise's driverless car operations in SF, and just days after that, Cruise suspended all driverless operations in cities across the U.S.
Cruise recalls all 950 of its autonomous cars to update their software after one dragged a pedestrian to the side of a San Francisco street in early October (@tkrisher / Associated Press)https://t.co/fthfavSj6l— Techmeme (@Techmeme) November 8, 2023
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And now, the Associated Press reports that Cruise is recalling all 950 of its self-driving vehicles across the country. The move seems directly related to the October 2 pedestrian incident in SF, as Cruise said in their recall statement to the NHTSA, “In the course of its investigation of the incident, Cruise determined that the (automated driving system) attempted to pull over after the collision, rather than remain stationary.”
By attempting to pull over, the Cruise vehicle dragged the pedestrian victim an additional 20 feet.
“We have issued a voluntary recall of part of our AV (autonomous vehicle) software based on a new analysis of our AV’s post-collision response on October 2,” Cruise said in a company blog post. “The recall addresses circumstances in which the Cruise collision detection subsystem may cause the Cruise AV to attempt to pull over out of traffic instead of remaining stationary when a pullover is not the desired post-collision response.”
It’s unclear whether Cruise will continue to operate vehicles with human drivers during the recall. But they say the driverless cars will return with a software update.
NEW: Internal company materials from Cruise show the self-driving car company knew its vehicles had trouble driving safely around children and couldn't detect giant holes in the road, but kept on cruising https://t.co/aCjhEjnoUy— Sam Biddle (@samfbiddle) November 6, 2023
The recall comes just one day after an exposé in the Intercept reported that Cruise vehicles had problems recognizing children, and had almost driven into a hole full of construction workers — but the company kept the vehicles on the road anyway. The Intercept obtained internal Cruise documents that said “Cruise AVs may not exercise additional care around children,” and that the company said the robotaxis still “need the ability to distinguish children from adults so we can display additional caution around children.”
USC law professor and autonomous engineer Bryant Walker Smith told the Intercept, “This strikes me as deeply irresponsible at the management level to be authorizing and pursuing deployment or driverless testing, and to be publicly representing that the systems are reasonably safe.”
For their part, Cruise said in a statement to the Intercept (before the nationwide recall), “Our driverless operations have always performed higher than a human benchmark, and we constantly evaluate and mitigate new risks to continuously improve,” and that “We have the lowest risk tolerance for contact with children and treat them with the highest safety priority. No vehicle — human operated or autonomous — will have zero risk of collision.”
the gap between promises and reality in driverless cars is really something. While this was going on the company wasn't just saying its tech was safe; it was advertising its tech as **safer** than humans pic.twitter.com/ZkfSU9R8y8— Max Chafkin (@chafkin) November 7, 2023
Per the Intercept, those internal reports add that Cruise had concerns over the cars’ behavior at crosswalks, or near children who could suddenly and unpredictably move onto the street. The Intercept added that in one test drive, “a Cruise vehicle successfully detected a toddler-sized dummy but still struck it with its side mirror at 28 miles per hour.”
Though Cruise said in their statement to the Intercept that “It is inaccurate to say that our AVs were not detecting or exercising appropriate caution around pedestrian children.”
Internal company materials also say Cruise knew its cars couldn't detect holes in the road, including road construction sites with human workers inside, and might drive into them. The company estimated that at its tiny fleet size, this would happen every several years.— Sam Biddle (@samfbiddle) November 6, 2023
Though that same report notes Cruise vehicles had trouble recognizing orange cones at construction sites (again with the orange cone problems!), and have a risk of driving into holes in the road — even if there are construction workers in the holes. The Intercept reviewed video of one such Cruise nearly driving into “a construction pit with multiple workers inside” as the workers frantically tried to direct the vehicle to stop.
You’ll notice that it’s been awhile since tech industry bigwigs were saying “we should be rolling out the red carpet for AVs,” or that backlash to the cars was all because “San Francisco politicians hate technology so much.” If your main argument for self-driving cars is that they’re safer, pedestrian-dragging incidents are not a good way to argue that the AV technology is ready for prime time.
“These are not self-driving cars,” Smith told the Intercept. “These are cars driven by their companies.”
Image: via GetCruise.com