GM robotaxi and autonomous vehicle (AV) subsidiary Cruise announced a series of technology upgrades for its Cruise AVs following complaints about the problems the driverless Chevy Bolt EV units experience navigating near emergencies.
Following the upgrades, Cruise AVs will be better able to identify and avoid emergency vehicles and equipment.
In response to Frisco officials’ efforts to stop expansion of robotaxis into offering daytime rides, the GM subsidiary is working to improve AV navigation so that the driverless cabs can successfully and reliably maneuver around fire engines and ambulances rather than blocking traffic.
The new tech will also give the robotaxis the ability to detect and avoid uninflated firehoses lying across the road as well as caution tape, and to hear and respond correctly to emergency vehicle sirens. The municipal authorities will also begin sending real-time data about emergency vehicle movements to Cruise so the company can remotely guide its AVs away from potential problem spots.
The updates address a litany of complaints about the autonomous vehicles, including claims that the robotic cabs have caused problems at the scene of emergencies on at least 58 occasions. This includes traffic blockage, running over fire hoses, and a recent case where a pedestrian hit by a human-driven car was then trapped under a Cruise AV.
At least one change raises potential questions about the GM subsidiary’s ground-up driverless robotaxi, the Cruise Origin. The new plan will allow first responders to take over control of Cruise AV units and simply drive them out of the way if necessary, like a regular vehicle. However, the Origin is specifically designed in its production form to include no controls usable by a human driver.
This raises the question of how first responders will move an Origin that gets embroiled in an emergency situation short of brute-force towing. The Teamsters Union recently raised similar concerns, saying the application for an NHTSA exemption allowing Origin units to operate despite lacking a steering wheel, pedals, or any way for a human to take control is “dangerous for other motorists, for pedestrians” according to president Sean M. O’Brien.
Meanwhile, Cruise trimmed its San Francisco AV fleet by half to 50 vehicles after one collided with a fire truck earlier this summer.