Cruise Makes Changes Following Accident and Suspended Service

cruise a driverless robot taxi in san francisco
Cruise Is Making Changes Following AccidentAnadolu Agency - Getty Images
  • General Motors' Cruise robotaxi unit introduces software updates to its fleet that will alter robotaxi behavior after certain types of traffic accidents and impacts.

  • In October the victim of a hit-and-run in San Francisco involving another car was thrown into the path of a robotaxi, which braked quickly but the pedestrian nevertheless became trapped under the robotaxi. The robotaxi then proceeded to perform a pullover maneuver instead of remaining in place.

  • Cruise has hired an outside engineering firm to perform a technical root cause analysis of the incident, which is now being investigated by the California Department of Motor Vehicles and the NHTSA.

In the wake of the October incident in San Francisco in which a Cruise robotaxi drove over a pedestrian who had been struck by a car in a separate hit-and-run accident, General Motors' autonomous division has announced a series of changes.

The first major step Cruise is undertaking is a recall, one that concerns robotaxi software behavior immediately after impact. Cruise admitted earlier that the robotaxi correctly applied the brakes when approaching the pedestrian victim of the hit-and-run, but the robotaxi then proceeded to pull over shortly after the impact, apparently unaware the injured pedestrian was underneath.

"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," Cruise said in a statement.

Cruise has already developed a software update that addresses this, and has distributed it to its test fleet.

The company has hired a third-party engineering firm to carry out a technical root cause analysis of the incident, which is now being investigated by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Cruise has also announced a Chief Safety Officer role, in addition to the existing Safety & Systems division of the company. On an interim basis, the role will be performed by Louise Zhang, VP of Safety & Systems.

Separately, General Motors has said it is pausing Origin shuttle production, which had just began weeks prior in Detroit. The larger multi-passenger electric MPV, based on the Ultium platform, was slated to act as a larger Level 4 robotaxi, offering ride-pooling.

In addition to losing its license from the California DMV to operate in San Francisco, which had only been granted earlier this summer, Cruise has suspended its passenger services in other cities, which had been in the process of scaling up.

While a software update had been virtually assured after the October incident, it remains to be seen just how Cruise will attempt to gain back its license to operate in San Francisco.

Among other things, the incident should serve as a test case for what happens when a robotaxi becomes part of an already unfolding, crash triggered by another car—something that had not happened in the US until October.

In some ways it is surprising the robotaxi did not already feature programming to ensure that it would stop and remain in place if it drove over a pedestrian, or lacked the sensors to detect this particular situation in the first place.

At the very least, it appears foreseeable that a pedestrian could become trapped under a robotaxi at some point, whether it was the robotaxi's fault or not, and would require the car to remain in place.

Robotaxis are understood to have some coding that governs behavior after solid objects, such as traffic cones, are driven over by the car, but the extent to which a Cruise robotaxi can categorize those objects and make decisions accordingly is not known.

Cruise has previously stated in the defense of its robotaxi that the car initiated braking some 460 milliseconds after detecting the struck pedestrian heading into its path, or far faster than a human could have reacted.

Could future involvement of robotaxis in traffic accidents fuel more scrutiny and significant pushback that could shut down the industry completely, or will the autonomous taxis continue to spread to other cities despite the controversies? Let us know in the comments below.