The self-driving ride-hailing service of General Motors’ Cruise unit is off to a rough start. In its first month serving paying customers, the autonomous taxi service has experienced reports of stranded vehicles, an accident that involved injuries and erratic vehicle behavior. Now, the California Public Utilities Commission is investigating an anonymous letter from a person claiming to work for Cruise, who wrote that “employees generally do not believe we are ready to launch to the public.”
The story was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, which viewed a copy of the letter but was unable to verify if the writer was a Cruise employee.
“In San Francisco, self-driving vehicles have been creating quite a nuisance, remaining stock-still while they try to communicate with the remote servers that they depend on,” said David Bruemmer, chief of strategy at NextDroid, in an emailed statement. NextDroid is a startup developing artificial intelligence solutions to enhance safety in autonomous vehicles.
In one incident, several Cruise vehicles blocked traffic, according to media reports, by stopping in the middle of an intersection in downtown San Francisco. Another hazardous situation occurred when a driverless vehicle reportedly blocked a fire truck that was responding to a fire.
“The marketing is that these vehicles will prevent accidents and frustration while the reality is that confused human drivers get sandwiched between autonomous cars that won’t move for fairly long periods of time,” Bruemmer said.
Federal regulators and lawmakers have called attention to safety concerns surrounding autonomous vehicles. Last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a standing general order requiring self-driving vehicle manufacturers and operators to report crashes involving AVs, and earlier this year a congressional hearing delved into the safety of autonomous vehicles.
But these mishaps haven’t slowed the auto industry’s drive toward AVs. Ford and GM have asked NHTSA to allow them to put self-driving vehicles on the road without steering wheels, brake pedals or other human controls. Cruise has started mapping Dubai as it prepares to launch self-driving taxis there in 2023, under a deal that makes the company the exclusive provider of autonomous ride-hailing services in the city through 2029.