General Motors’ self-driving subsidiary Cruise has found itself in hot water as of late. Notably, the NHTSA launched an investigation into the company’s handling of pedestrian safety in October 2023, which was then quickly followed by the California DMV’s suspension of Cruise’s driverless operations license. Now, it appears as though the autonomous driving technology may have trouble differentiating children from “normal’ pedestrians.
According to a report from The Intercept, an internal and previously unreported safety assessment found that in certain situations, Cruise AV robotaxi units may be unable to effectively detect children and proceed with extra caution. More specifically, the concern stemmed from the lack of data surrounding the unpredictability of a child, such as suddenly breaking away from their protector and running out into the street.
It’s worth noting that this doesn’t mean that Cruise AVs can’t identify children. It’s more a matter of exercising an abundant amount of caution in situations where children may be involved.
In response, Cruise claimed that it treats children as a special class of pedestrian – such as vulnerable road users (VRU) – to help ensure that no children are endangered during robotaxi operation.
“Our driverless operations have always performed higher than a human benchmark, and we constantly evaluate and mitigate new risks to continuously improve,” Cruise Communications Director Erik Moser claimed in a prepared statement. “We have the lowest risk tolerance for contact with children and treat them with the highest safety priority. No vehicle – human operated or autonomous – will have zero risk of collision.”
“Based on our latest assessment this summer, we determined from observed performance on-road, the risk of the potential collision with a child could occur once every 300 million miles at fleet driving, which we have since improved upon,” Moser continued. “There have been no on-road collisions with children.”