In a series of incidents, Cruise lost contact with its autonomous vehicles, leaving them frozen in traffic and trapping human drivers.
After a few minutes of bemused waiting, Hu says, he resorted to driving over the curbs of the street's median to escape. When he returned on foot a few minutes later to see whether the situation had resolved, the Cruise vehicles hadn't budged. A person who appeared to work for the company had parked in the intersection, Hu says, as if to indicate the street was closed, and was trying to direct traffic away from the immobile self-driving cars. Hu estimates that the robot car blockade, which has not previously been reported, lasted at least 15 minutes.
The Cruise vehicles that trapped Hu weren't the only autonomous cars holding up traffic in San Francisco that night. Internal messages seen by WIRED show that nearly 60 vehicles were disabled across the city over a 90-minute period after they lost touch with a Cruise server. As many as 20 cars, some of them halted in crosswalks, created a jam in the city's downtown. [...]
The June 28 outage wasn't Cruise's first. On the evening of May 18, the company lost touch with its entire fleet for 20 minutes as its cars sat stopped in the street, according to internal documentation viewed by WIRED. Company staff were unable to see where the vehicles were located or communicate with riders inside. Worst of all, the company was unable to access its fallback system, which allows remote operators to safely steer stopped vehicles to the side of the road.
A letter sent anonymously by a Cruise employee to the California Public Utilities Commission that month, which was reviewed by WIRED, alleged that the company loses contact with its driverless vehicles "with regularity," blocking traffic and potentially hindering emergency vehicles. The vehicles can sometimes only be recovered by tow truck, the letter said. [...]
Jeff Bleich, Cruise's chief legal officer [...] warned employees not working on that investigation to try and tune out crashes or related news reports, saying they were unavoidable and would increase in frequency as the company scaled up its operations. [...]
Testo, the Cruise spokesperson, said the company is "proud" of its safety record, "and it speaks for itself."
An Autonomous Car Blocked a Fire Truck Responding to an Emergency:
On an early April morning, around 4 am, a San Francisco Fire Department truck responding to a fire tried to pass a doubled-parked garbage truck by using the opposing lane. But a traveling autonomous vehicle, operated by the General Motors subsidiary Cruise without anyone inside, was blocking its path. While a human might have reversed to clear the lane, the Cruise car stayed put. The fire truck only passed the blockage when the garbage truck driver ran from their work to move their vehicle.
"This incident slowed SFFD response to a fire that resulted in property damage and personal injuries," city officials wrote in a filing submitted to the California Public Utilities Commission.
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