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NHTSA Probing Cruise’s Automated Driving System


The autonomous driving technology in vehicles made by General Motors’ robocab company Cruise LLC is the subject of an official safety investigation, U.S. auto safety regulators announced Friday.

Reports received by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show Cruise’s “Automated Driving System” equipped vehicles may engage in inappropriately hard braking or become immobilized while operating.”

What’s going wrong

Cruise SF traffic jam two
Cruise’s vehicles have become immbolized, causing traffic jams.

In particular, the agency noted the reports it received involved Cruise vehicles displaying “inappropriately hard braking or become immobilized.” 

The agency goes on to say “although the two types of incidents appear to be distinct, they each result in the Cruise vehicles becoming unexpected roadway obstacles. This may introduce multiple potential hazards such as a collision with a Cruise vehicle, risk to a stranded passenger exiting an immobilized Cruise vehicle, or obstruction of other traffic including emergency vehicles.”

Three instances of the Automated Driving System executing hard braking resulting as another driver approached rapidly from behind have been reported to NHTSA. In all three incidents, the Cruise vehicle was struck from behind. In each instance, the Cruise vehicle was operating under human supervision.

The agency also notes there have been multiple reports of Cruise’s Automated Driving System immobilizing the vehicle when not under human supervision. However, the number of immobilization incidents is unknown.

“NHTSA has learned about multiple immobilization incidents through a variety of sources, including discussions with Cruise, media reports, and submissions from local authorities, such as the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and the San Francisco County Transportation Authority.”

The investigation involves an estimated 242 vehicles.

An imperfect technology

Considered one of the leaders in the development of autonomous and fully driverless vehicles, Cruise beat Google spinoff Waymo to become the first to receive approval to begin commercial operation using fully driverless vehicles in June 2022. But soon after, it became apparent that the vehicle’s software may not have been ready for prime time a month later when a fleet of robocabs suddenly halted at a busy intersection in San Francisco, blocking traffic for hours — one of the problems that NHTSA is examining.

In response, the company recalled about 80 vehicles and updated their software in September. Earlier this year, GM and Cruise asked the NHTSA for permission to use some self-driving cars without steering wheels, mirrors, turn signals, or windshield wipers. The petition is still being considered.

Mercedes Drive Pilot - Interior v1
Mercedes-Benz’s Drive Pilot is already delivering Level 3 autonomy in Germany.

Cruise isn’t the only company experiencing issues.

A NHTSA study released in June revealed there have been 392 crashes since July 2021 involving “Level 2” semi-autonomous advanced driver assistance systems. Of those, nearly 70%, or 273, were caused by Tesla’s Autopilot.

Google’s Waymo started offering its autonomous ride service in Phoenix, Arizona using modified Jaguar I-Pace SUVs that are hailed using the Waymo app. But the company has chalked up 62 crashes involving its vehicles. 

Currently testing in Phoenix, the company is looking to expand its ride-hailing service to Los Angeles and San Francisco. In fact, 13 states are testing Waymo’s technology, although state rules and regulations differ in terms of regulations and licenses required.

In Europe, Mercedes-Benz has been cleared the German Federal Motor Transport Authority approved the use of automaker’s Level 3 autonomous driving system. The system facilitates automated driving at speeds of up to 37 mph in heavy traffic. But don’t look for it in the U.S.; Level 3 systems are not yet legal to use on American roads. In fact, the progression from Level 2 to Level 3 automation is so substantial, it requires national legislation to permit it. 

Others organizations are a bit further behind.

Volvo is also making progress with its Ride Pilot autonomous driving system. Ride Pilot is anticipated to be offered as an add-on subscription for the company’s upcoming fully electric EX90 SUV once it has been certified safe for use on highways. 

Meanwhile, Ford Motor Company abandoned its partnership with Pittsburgh-based Argo AI and Volkswagen in October. 

Of course, the big question remains Apple’s Project Titan. Apple officials have been quiet about the initiative in recent months, but the state of California has given the company authorization to test 66 vehicles’ autonomy on public roads. In 2018, Apple signed a deal with Volkswagen to use VW’s T6 Transporter vans for Apple’s self-driving shuttles for employees around its various campuses and buildings in the San Francisco Bay Area.


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