A rather damning Reuters report tells the tale of a long road ahead for General Motors’ and Cruise Automation’s self-driving car program. According to interviews with eight current and former GM and Cruise employees, the program has been subject to unforeseen roadblocks.
One unnamed GM source explicitly said “Nothing is on schedule,” which paints GM’s 2019 timeline to roll out a commercialized self-driving car service rather bleak. The automaker has been outspoken about launching a ride-sharing service of some sort, and top executives have reiterated the timeline. However, Cruise CEO, Kyle Vogt, told Reuters in the latest report the company is still on track to reach the 2019 goal. Those close to the project recognize it will still take a lot of time, money and resources to actually launch a fully operational ride-sharing service.
According to the numerous sources, GM Cruise self-driving cars still have major trouble identifying whether an object is in motion or stationary. One current and three former Cruise employees said they’ve witnessed the problem first-hand. For example, the car is unable to identify if bicycles parked on a rack are actually standing still. The confusion causes the car to hesitate and stop while passing parked bicycles and motorcycles.
Other software qualms, according to current and former employees, include failure to recognize pedestrians (a big safety issue) and identifying bicycles that aren’t actually present. The latter has caused GM Cruise self-driving cars to act erratically and slam on the brakes. The self-driving cars also don’t have the ability to respond to fire truck sirens.
The software robotics Cruise has used to develop the technology also reportedly slows messages from the car’s sensors to the brain, which can cause delayed actions. Vogt said next-generation software and sensors will fix that problem.
GM has promised it will only launch a service in 2019 when it meets internal safety goals. Today, those are far from reality. Both GM and Cruise have missed self-imposed deadlines and goals since the two joined forces. Missed goals include having Cruise self-driving cars record the fewest number of human takeovers from the software and it did not log one million miles by early 2018 as intended.
However, the companies said the mileage goal was based on an old footprint when more testing was underway in Arizona. Today, most of it takes place in San Francisco, where fewer miles are driven.
GM President Dan Ammann said the automaker is currently in a “race to the starting line” and conceded it will take years and billions of dollars to fully develop self-driving cars. BMW R&D chief, Klaus Fröhlich, had a different take.
“Everyone in the industry is becoming more and more nervous that they will waste billions of dollars,” he said.