Cruise patches robo-taxi software to not drag humans across the road anymore

Self-driving car outfit also creates chief safety officer role. No wonder

Cruise has pushed a handy update to its self-driving taxi fleet so that they will no longer drag pedestrians along the road after running them over.

The GM subsidiary submitted what is technically a recall notice [PDF] to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Tuesday, saying it needed to fix up the robo-vehicles' collision detection subsystem.

More specifically: the update is intended to make the onboard driving software better at realizing when the car's hit a person who is already down low or on the ground, and making sure the autonomous vehicle (AV) doesn't make the situation worse by pulling over and further injuring the victim.

"In certain circumstances, a collision may occur, after which the 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," the biz said in its notice. 

"This issue could occur after a collision with a pedestrian positioned low on the ground in the path of the AV," Cruise added. 

That's precisely what happened on October 2 in San Francisco, when a Cruise self-driving taxi, with no humans onboard, ran over a woman who had seconds earlier been knocked to the ground by a hit-and-run driver. The woman fell in front of the Cruise car, which drove over her, realized it hit something, and then tried to pull over to safely, dragging her along and stopping on top of her, trapping her.

In its recall notice referring to that accident, Cruise said its automated driving system "inaccurately characterized the collision as a lateral collision and commanded the AV to attempt to pull over out of traffic, pulling the individual forward, rather than remaining stationary."

The woman was treated in hospital and was in a critical condition. That accident, and another pedestrian collision in August when a person stepped off a curb in front of a driver-less Cruise taxi as the light turned green, triggered the NHTSA to launch a probe into Cruise over fears its AV software "may not be exercising appropriate caution around pedestrians." 

Ten days after the NHTSA launched its investigation, Cruise announced it was pausing all driverless operations. Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt admitted over the weekend that Cruise's vehicles needed regular remote intervention by humans to stay on track, and GM also announced a temporary pause of production of a Cruise-branded driverless van called Origin.

Cruise has now issued the update to fix the issues with its collision-detection software, and was testing the new code in its supervised test fleet - with a safety driver behind the wheel just in case. 

As it has since these investigations began, Cruise has maintained its self-driving cars are still safer than human drivers. "Although we determined that a similar collision with a risk of serious injury could have recurred every 10 million - 100 million miles of driving on average prior to the software update, we strive to continually improve and to make these events even rarer," the biz said.

Wait, you didn't have what?

Cruise also announced plans today to hire a chief safety officer, a role which apparently didn't exist at the auto-tech car biz in its first decade of operation. Cruise did have a VP of safety and systems, Dr Louise Zhang, who will be assuming the CSO role in the interim until a permanent person is found.  

Cruise also said it has retained law firm Quinn Emanuel "to examine and better understand Cruise's response to the October 2 incident," and had also contracted with engineering consulting firm Exponent "to perform a technical root cause analysis" of the SF accident. 

Cruise has also identified "four key areas of potential improvements," namely safety governance, safety and engineering processes, internal/external transparency and community engagement, and had assigned company leadership to "investigate each one and complete follow up actions." 

It's unclear what today's announcements mean for Cruise's return to driverless operations but we'll update if we hear back. ®

More about


Send us news

Other stories you might like