For some residents San Francisco, the robotic future of driving is just a tap away. Passenger calling services from Cruise and Alphabet, GM’s subsidiary Waymo, allow them to book a ride without a driver using an app. But some riders may have become too accustomed to this technology.
In a letter filed yesterday with a California regulator, city agencies complained that Cruise employees have called 911 three times since December after a passenger in one of his self-driving cars “stopped responding” to the two-way voice communication installed in each vehicle. . Each time, police and firefighters came to the scene, only to find the same thing: a passenger who had fallen asleep on their robot ride.
In the letter, the agencies complain that these incidents have resulted in a waste of public money and a potential diversion of resources from people in real need. “Taxpayer-funded emergency response resources used for non-emergency situations undermine their availability to members of the public in real life.[d]”, wrote the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority and the Mayor’s Office of Disability Affairs.
The letter was one in a series of letters sent to the California Public Utilities Commission this week by transportation officials in San Francisco and Los Angeles seeking to put a brake on Cruise and Waymo’s requests to expand their paid robot taxi services in both cities. Cities say they are worried that the technology is not ready. And they want companies to be required to provide more performance data for their vehicles and meet certain criteria before the service can be extended.
San Francisco agencies cite a number of disturbing and previously unreported incidents, including false alarms due to snoozing passengers and two incidents in which Cruise’s self-driving vehicles appeared to interfere with firefighters’ work.
One incident occurred last June, days after the state allowed Cruise to pick up paying passengers in the city. The agency’s letter said that one of the company’s robot taxis ran over a fire hose being used at the site of an active fire, which “could seriously injure firefighters.”
In a second incident just last week, city officials say firefighters fighting a major blaze in the Western Addition saw a self-driving cruise vehicle approaching. They “made an effort to prevent the Cruise AV from hitting their hoses and failed to do so until the Cruise AV’s windshield was smashed,” the San Francisco agencies wrote in their letter.
San Francisco Fire Department spokesman Jonathan Baxter confirmed two incidents had occurred. He says the last time the autonomous vehicle took about two minutes to stop, and that the department contacted Cruz about both encounters with firefighters. Cruise ship spokeswoman Hannah Lindow says the car was stationary by the time the fireman broke the glass. WIRED previously reported that last spring, a cruise vehicle blocked one of the department’s fire trucks on its way to a major fire for about 25 seconds.
Lindow says some of the data Cruise provides to regulators must be kept private for customer safety and to protect “sensitive information.” In a statement, she wrote that the company has “traveled millions of miles in extremely challenging urban environments without life-threatening injuries or deaths.”