Cruise reboots its autonomous driving program with… drivers

After an accident in San Francisco caused Cruise to suspend its operations with its robotaxi fleet nationwide, it announced that it would restart driving on public roads. However, GM’s subsidiary is straightening its back carefully, as this first batch of vehicles is equipped with a driver on board.

Cruise has chosen Phoenix as the gateway for its relaunch. Phoenix is one of the cities where it deployed robotaxis before the accident in which one of its cars failed to stop over a pedestrian in front of its nose in October last year. However, the rebooted cars will have human drivers on board. These will actually be steering and commanding the vehicle constantly, as the autonomous driving functions remain locked.

A different approach

While restarting operations without testing autonomous driving functionality might seem strange, Cruise is pursuing a different approach this time. The current runs must help deep-learn the AI embedded in the vehicles.

They are used to create a map and gather road information about the city to build a more robust foundation before automated taxi rides resume. Cruise doesn’t stick to a given date but says this new strategy will also be unfolded in other cities—presumably referring to San Francisco, where the law is benign for automated driving.

That holds for Phoenix as well, where Cruise has a strong history and is also home to many of its employees. The city supports automated vehicles and transportation innovation, with leaders striving to ensure the metro area is an incubator for advanced technology.

The traffic accident that caused Cruise to halt operations left competitor Waymo as the only company offering commercial robotaxi rides in the US. A human-driven car hit a pedestrian projected in the pathway of the Cruise taxi.

The latter didn’t stop but dragged the victim several meters further down the road. The car causing the accident fled the scene. The impact on the company reached wide, as it subsequently fired one-fourth of its staff.

Tesla settles to avoid court case

Incidents involving automated driving remain the focal point of U.S. news. Tesla, which started last week offering its fully automated driving option, FSD, for a free monthly trial on all of its models, settled before a fatal incident case reached court.

In that 2018 accident in California, a 38-year-old Apple engineer was killed when his car crashed into a concrete barrier between the two halves of a highway at full speed. Teslas have repeatedly demonstrated this behavior in self-driving mode, but the driver, playing a game on his phone, wasn’t paying attention.

With the latter a prerequisite for using FSD, Tesla has won all similar court cases so far. But this time, lawyers focused on Tesla, i.e., Elon Musk, building up overconfidence in the system. It’s the first time Tesla has chosen to settle instead of going to court.


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