Cruise Robotaxis Return to the Road Following Pedestrian Collision

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Key Takeaways

  • GM's Cruise has put robotaxis back on the road with human drivers.
  • The company shut down service after a pedestrian collision in October.
  • The company hopes to resume self-driving tests in the future.

GM-owned Cruise is returning its robotaxis to the road in Phoenix, Arizona, albeit with human drivers.

The company said it’s resuming “manual driving” in Phoenix, followed by other cities, to create maps and collect road data to validate its self-driving car technology. The modified Chevy Bolt EVs won’t carry passengers.

Cruise said the process will begin by pinpointing “high-fidelity” road features like lane markings and signs. It will also use the safety drivers as benchmarks for the autonomous system’s perception and prediction features.

Once Cruise is ready to resume hands-free operations, it will resume self-driving tests with safety drivers as backups. The brand planned to eventually resume driverless service, although it didn’t commit to a timeframe.

Cruise halted robotaxi operations across the US in early October 2023 when one of its San Francisco cars hit a pedestrian struck by another vehicle, dragging her for 20 feet before coming to a stop. The machine braked “aggressively,” Cruise said at the time, but rescuers had to unpin the woman’s leg.

California responded to the incident by banning Cruise from using its vehicles in the state. While the company updated its cars to improve their crash responses, the shutdown did severe damage to the company. Ten executives (including co-founder Kyle Vogt) left, and Cruise laid off 24% of its staff.

Another collision weeks before saw a Cruise car hit a fire truck after it didn’t yield properly to the first responder.

Self-driving car developers have long grappled with safety issues. Uber’s fatal pedestrian collision in 2018 led the ridesharing giant to ultimately sell its autonomous driving division to Aurora in 2020. Alphabet’s Waymo, long considered the most successful robotaxi creator in the US, reported three minor injuries in a safety data release this December.

Cruise, Waymo, and other autonomous driving proponents still argue that their systems are overall safer than humans. California has also offered Cruise a path back to service should it address key issues. For now, though, the industry is under tight scrutiny from officials worried companies aren’t doing enough to prevent accidents.