Cruise Robotaxi Drives Into Wet Cement, More Mishaps With Fire Trucks

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

cruise robotaxi drives into wet cement more mishaps with fire trucks

The robotaxi situation in California continues to get more ridiculous after additional reports of autonomous test vehicles doing something incredibly stupid. One of the driverless Chevrolet Bolts operated by Cruise apparently drove through a construction zone last week, stranding itself in wet cement. This was followed by news of yet another unsavory encounter involving a Cruise AV and an emergency response vehicle just days later.

Saying the company is fighting an uphill public relations battle would be putting it mildly.

While self-driving technologies border on the miraculous when they work, the magic dissipates when they behave erratically and no company seems to have figured out how to make these systems wholly reliable or adaptive to certain roadway conditions a sober human operator would have no trouble navigating.

But it’s not for a lack of trying. Both General Motors’ Cruise and Alphabet’s Waymo are struggling to remain popular in San Francisco after being allowed to operate within the city to better test their vehicles — even getting permission from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to expand their operations earlier in the month.

However, the decision has placed local officials at odds with state regulators. They came out to advise the CPUC not to approve any autonomous vehicle expansions by providing a year’s worth of crash data and voicing their concerns. The San Francisco Fire Department seems particularly annoyed and has accused the vehicles of failing to get out of the way in emergency situations. Meanwhile, a subset of residents voiced fears that AVs aren’t nearly as safe as the companies operating them claim and remain concerned that their implementation ultimately serves to take away jobs from human drivers.

There’s even a group of local activists who have been going around placing road cones on the hood of stopped Waymo and Cruise vehicles — effectively disabling them.

While Waymo’s public relations headaches seemed to be focused in Arizona, Cruise embarrassments seem most frequent in California. But neither brand appears to be making new fans in San Francisco. There have just been too many high-profile incidents.

The most recent involves a Cruise robotaxi in San Francisco colliding with an SFPD truck. According to a post for the company’s social media account, the accident took place on the night of August 17th when one of its vehicles “entered the intersection on a green light and was struck by an emergency vehicle that appeared to be en route to an emergency scene.”

CNBC reported that a passenger was taken to the hospital and was believed to have sustained “non-severe injuries.” While it’s unclear who was at fault, footage from the scene showed that the Cruise vehicle had been struck from the side while the fire truck attempted to move through the intersection.

The incident comes less than a week after the California Public Utilities Commission voted to allow paid self-driving taxi services in San Francisco to operate 24 hours a day and just 48 hours after another Cruise vehicle stranded itself in wet cement. That incident took place near Fillmore and Steiner streets on Golden Gate Avenue and was more embarrassing than anything.

We’ve seen autonomous test vehicles having difficulties navigating construction zones in the past and this has to be a prime example. Cruise employees had to go fetch the stranded vehicle later in the day.

“I can see five different scenarios where bad things happen and this is one of them,” Paul Harvey, a San Francisco resident who watched the car getting pulled out of the concrete, told SFGATE. “It thinks it’s a road and it ain’t because it ain’t got a brain and it can’t tell that it’s freshly poured concrete.”

While Harvey said he understood that humans are prone to making mistakes behind the wheel, he said he remained skeptical of autonomous vehicles — calling them creepy.

With local officials souring on self-driving testing in San Francisco, there’s been more focused coverage of mishaps over the last several months. However, the robotaxis seem to be offering the media plenty of opportunities. We reported on how elevated internet usage stemming from Outside Lands event attendees resulted in a drop in cell service near North Beach. Unfortunately, this meant a batch of nearby autonomous taxis couldn’t utilize the network and subsequently stopped moving when coverage ended. While the resulting traffic backup was brief, it served as another moment of embarrassment.

And that’s just August. The SFPD has logged over 66 incidents in which robotaxis interfered with fire trucks, starting in May 2022. But there have also been mishaps where they’ve collided with mass transit, struck pets, and behaved erratically in mundane situations a human driver would have had no trouble coping with. The bad publicity certainly isn’t helping either Waymo or Cruise win over San Francisco residents and local officials have vowed to work tirelessly until the California Public Utilities Commission and Governor Gavin Newsom change their tune about allowing autonomous vehicles on public roads.

[Image: Cruise]

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2 of 38 comments
  • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Aug 22, 2023

    These companies' lawyers should be looking for jobs, because their crystal ball has to be telling them they will eventually be defending their clients against a wrongful death lawsuit - with more to come.

    It's a statistical inevitability.

  • Zerofoo Zerofoo on Aug 22, 2023

    Humans putting non-deterministic systems in charge of things will go down in history as one of the dumbest things we ever did.

    A machine that does not have reliable, predictable output is not a good machine.

  • Bullnuke It may be awhile before these show up on US shores. The MV Fremantle Highway has just started demo/reconstruction in Rotterdam after the large fire when transporting its last shipment of electric Porsche products.
  • Fie on Fiasler Big, fast and thirsty does not equal good. True luxury is not cobbled together by the UAW.
  • Inside Looking Out I see it as gladiator races - only one survives in virtual world.
  • Crown They need to put the EcoDiesel back in the Grand Cherokee. I have a 2018 and it has been the most reliable vehicle I ever owned. 69,000 miles and only needed tires, and regular oil and fuel filter changes.
  • El scotto Y'all are overthinking this. Find some young hard-charging DA seeking the TV limelight to lock this kid up. Heck, have John Boehner come up from Cincy to help the young DA get his political career going. Better yet, have the young DA spin this as hard as he or she can; I'm the candidate for Law and Order, I defied our go-easy office and leadership to get this identified criminal locked up. Oh this could be spun more than a hyper active kid's top.Now I'd do some consulting work for Little Kings Original Cream Ale and Skyline Chili.