GM’s autonomous vehicle unit recalls cars for software update | News, sports, jobs

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

The company said Wednesday in documents posted by U.S. safety regulators that, with the updated software, cruise vehicles will remain stationary if a similar incident occurs in the future.

The Oct. 2 crash prompted Cruise to suspend driverless operations nationwide after regulators in California found its cars posed a threat to public safety. The state Department of Motor Vehicles has revoked the license for Cruise, which transported passengers throughout San Francisco without a human driver.

In the crash, another vehicle with a person behind the wheel struck a pedestrian, putting the person into the path of an autonomous Cruise vehicle. The Cruise initially stopped but still hit the person. But then he pulled to the right to get out of traffic, pulling the person forward about 20 feet. The pedestrian became trapped under one of the cruise vehicle’s tires and was seriously injured.

Cruise says in U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration filings that it has already updated software in test vehicles supervised by human safety drivers. The driverless fleet will receive the new software before resuming operations, the company said.

On Wednesday, the GM unit said in a statement that it had issued the recall even though it determined that a similar accident with a risk of serious injury could happen again every 10 to 100 million miles without the update.

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“We strive to continually improve these events and make them even rarer,” 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 improve the safety of our fleet.”

Cruise said that after examining the system, it has decided to add a chief safety officer, hire a law firm to review its response to the Oct. 2 crash, appoint an outside engineering firm to find the technical cause, and implement it company-wide “pillars” to pay attention to safety and transparency.

Problems at Cruise could delay the deployment of fully autonomous vehicles that carry passengers without human drivers on board. It could also bring stronger federal regulation of the vehicles, which carry passengers, in more cities across the country.

NHTSA opened an investigation Oct. 16 into four reports that cruise vehicles may not be exercising proper caution around pedestrians. Agency documents list two injuries, including the Oct. 2 crash. The complaints related to autonomous vehicles “encroaching on pedestrians who are on or entering roadways, including pedestrian crossings in the vicinity of the intended path of vehicles,” the agency said.

In documents filed with NHTSA, Cruise says the automated driving system is designed to pull over and step out of traffic in some cases to minimize safety risks and disruptions after a crash, with the response depending on the characteristics of the crash. But under certain circumstances, such as when a pedestrian is on the ground in the path of the vehicle, stopping is not the desired response.

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The Cruise system “accurately characterized the collision as a side impact and ordered the AV to attempt to pull out of traffic, pulling the person forward rather than remaining stationary,” the company said.

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

The DMV and others have accused Cruise of initially not sharing all video footage of the accident, but the robotaxi operator pushed back, saying he had disclosed the full video to state and federal officials.

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

GM is temporarily pausing production of the Origin, a fully autonomous vehicle designed for Cruise to carry multiple passengers. The company is expected to resume production at a factory in the Detroit area once Cruise resumes autonomous driving.

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