for some residents In San Francisco, the future of driving robots is just a tap away. The ride-hailing services of GM subsidiary Cruise and Alphabet Inc. Waymo allow them to summon driverless cars via apps. But some riders may get too comfortable with the technology.
In a letter filed yesterday with California regulators, the city agency complained that Cruise crews called 911 on three separate occasions since December because of a passenger in one of its self-driving cars. “No response” to the two-way voice link installed in each vehicle. Each time, police and firefighters arrived, only to find the same thing: a passenger who had fallen asleep while riding the robot.
In the letter, the agencies complained that the incidents waste public money and may divert resources from those who really need help. “Taxpayer-funded emergency response resources for non-emergency situations undermine their availability to the public in the true sense of the word[d],” wrote the San Francisco Department of Transportation, the San Francisco County Transit Authority and the Mayor’s Office of Disabilities.
The letter is one of a series of letters sent this week to the California Public Utilities Commission by transportation officials in San Francisco and Los Angeles, seeking to block requests from Cruise and Waymo to expand their paid robotaxi services in the two cities. The cities said they were concerned the technology wasn’t ready yet. They want to require the companies to share more data on a car’s performance and meet certain benchmarks before expanding the service.
The San Francisco agency cited a number of disturbing and previously unreported incidents, including a false alarm for a dozing passenger and two incidents in which Cruise’s self-driving vehicle appeared to impede firefighters’ work.
One incident occurred last June, just days after the state allowed Cruise to pick up paying passengers in the city. One of the company’s robotaxis ran over a fire hose being used at the scene of an active fire, an act that “could seriously injure firefighters,” the agency letter said.
In a second incident, just last week, the city said firefighters attending a fire in the Western Addition neighborhood saw an unmanned Cruise vehicle approaching. The San Francisco agency wrote in the letter that they “struggled to prevent the Cruise AV from driving over their hoses, but were unable to do so until they smashed the Cruise AV’s front window.”
San Francisco Fire Department spokesman Jonathan Baxter confirmed the two incidents. The most recent self-driving car took about two minutes to stop, and the department is in touch with Cruise about two encounters with firefighters, he said. Cruise spokeswoman Hannah Lindow said the vehicle was stationary when a firefighter broke the glass. Wired previously reported that last spring, a Cruise vehicle blocked one of the department’s fire trucks for about 25 seconds while en route to a fire.
Lindow said some of the data Cruise provided to regulators had to be kept private for customer safety and to protect “proprietary information.” She wrote in a statement that the company “has driven millions of miles in extremely complex urban environments with zero life-threatening injuries.”
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