General Motors’ autonomous vehicle unit recalls cars for software update after pulling over a pedestrian

GM’s Cruise autonomous vehicle unit is recalling all 950 of its cars to update its software after one pulled a pedestrian to the side of a San Francisco street last month

DETROIT – General Motors’ Cruise autonomous vehicle unit is recalling all 950 of its cars to update software after one of them dragged a pedestrian to the side of a San Francisco street in early October.

The company said in documents released by US safety officials on Wednesday that with the updated software, cruise vehicles will remain stationary should a similar incident occur in the future.

The Oct. 2 crash prompted Cruise to suspend driverless operations nationwide after California authorities determined its cars posed a public safety hazard. The state Department of Motor Vehicles revoked the license of Cruise, which transported passengers without human drivers throughout San Francisco.

In the crash, another vehicle with a person behind the wheel hit a pedestrian, sending the person into the path of a Cruise autonomous vehicle. The cruiser stopped first but still hit the person. But it then pulled to the right to get out of traffic, pulling the person about 20 feet (six meters) forward. The pedestrian was pinned under one of the cruiser’s tires and was seriously injured.

Cruise says in documents released by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that it has already updated software in test vehicles monitored by human safety drivers. The driverless fleet will get the new software before it resumes operations, the company says.

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In a statement Wednesday, the GM unit said it was making the recall even though it determined a similar crash with the risk of serious injury could happen again every 10,000,000,000,000,000. miles without the update.

“We strive to continuously improve and make these events even less frequent,” the statement said. “As our software continues to improve, it is likely that we will file additional recalls to inform both NHTSA and the public of updates to enhance safety across our fleet.”

Cruise said that after examining its system, it has decided to add a safety officer, hire a law firm to review its response to the Oct. 2 accident, appoint a third-party engineering firm to find the technical cause and adopt company-wide “pillars ” to focus on security and transparency.

Problems at Cruise could slow the spread of fully autonomous vehicles that transport passengers without human drivers on board. It could also bring stronger federal regulation of the vehicles, which transport passengers in several cities nationwide.

NHTSA opened an investigation Oct. 16 into four reports that cruise vehicles failed to exercise adequate caution around pedestrians. Agency documents cited two injuries, including the Oct. 2 accident. The complaints involved vehicles driving autonomously and “stepping into pedestrians present on or entering roadways, including crosswalks near the vehicles’ intended path of travel,” the agency said.

In documents filed with NHTSA, Cruise said its automated driving system was designed to pull over and out of traffic in some cases to minimize safety risks and distractions after a crash, with the response depending on the characteristics of the crash. However, in certain circumstances, such as a pedestrian placed on the ground in the vehicle’s path, pulling over is not the desired response.

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The cruise system “inaccurately characterized the collision as a side collision and ordered the AV to attempt to pull out of traffic and pull the person forward instead of remaining stationary,” the company said.

While the Department of Motor Vehicles did not elaborate on specific reasons for its suspension of Cruise’s license, the agency accused Cruise of misrepresenting safety information about the autonomous technology in its vehicles. The recall followed a series of incidents that raised concerns about the dangers and inconveniences caused by Cruise’s robotic axis.

The DMV and others have blamed Cruise for not initially sharing all video footage of the crash, but the robotaxi operator pushed back — saying it disclosed the entire video to state and federal officials.

General Motors Co., has ambitious goals for Cruise. The Detroit automaker had expected $1 billion in annual revenue from Cruise by 2025 — a big jump from last year’s $106 million in revenue.

GM recently stopped production of the Origin, a fully autonomous vehicle designed for Cruise to carry multiple passengers. The company is expected to resume production at a Detroit-area factory when Cruise resumes autonomous travel.

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