General Motors’ Autonomous Vehicle Unit Recalls Cars for Software Update Following Pedestrian Incident

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General Motors (NYSE:GM) Cruise autonomous vehicle unit is initiating a recall of all 950 of its vehicles to implement a crucial software update, prompted by a recent incident where one of its cars was involved in an accident with a pedestrian in San Francisco. The company shared this information in documents made public by U.S. safety regulators on Wednesday.

According to the announcement, the software update will ensure that Cruise vehicles remain stationary in the event of a similar incident occurring in the future. This development comes in the wake of a troubling October 2nd incident where a Cruise autonomous vehicle was involved in a collision with a pedestrian, leading to the pedestrian being dragged along the street.

The incident raised serious concerns about the safety of autonomous vehicles, leading California regulators to temporarily suspend Cruise’s driverless operations and revoke the company’s license for transporting passengers without human drivers in San Francisco.

In the unfortunate accident, another vehicle, with a human driver, initially struck a pedestrian, causing them to be propelled into the path of the Cruise autonomous vehicle. Although the Cruise vehicle initially stopped, it later moved to the right to exit the traffic, unintentionally dragging the injured pedestrian about 20 feet forward and trapping them beneath one of its tires, resulting in critical injuries.

Cruise stated in documents submitted to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that they have already implemented the updated software in their test vehicles, which are under the supervision of human safety drivers. The driverless fleet will receive the software update before resuming its operations.

In a press release, the GM unit explained that they initiated the recall even though they estimated that a similar crash with a risk of serious injury could occur every 10 million to 100 million miles without the update. The statement emphasized their commitment to enhancing safety and indicated their willingness to issue additional recalls to inform both NHTSA and the public of any future updates.

To address the situation, Cruise has undertaken several measures, including the appointment of a chief safety officer, the engagement of a law firm to assess their response to the October 2nd accident, hiring a third-party engineering firm to investigate the technical causes, and adopting companywide “pillars” to emphasize safety and transparency.

The problems faced by Cruise could potentially slow down the deployment of fully autonomous vehicles carrying passengers without human drivers, as well as lead to more robust federal regulations in the autonomous vehicle sector.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) launched an investigation on October 16 into four reports indicating that Cruise vehicles may not exercise proper caution around pedestrians, which included two injuries, including the October 2nd incident. These complaints pertained to vehicles operating autonomously and approaching pedestrians on or near roadways, including pedestrian crosswalks along the intended travel path.

Cruise revealed in documents submitted to NHTSA that their automated driving system was designed to pull over and out of traffic in certain scenarios to minimize safety risks and traffic disruption following a collision. However, in specific circumstances, such as a pedestrian in the vehicle’s path, pulling over was not the appropriate response. The Cruise system inaccurately classified the collision as a lateral impact and directed the autonomous vehicle to attempt to pull over, inadvertently moving the individual forward instead of remaining stationary.

While the Department of Motor Vehicles did not elaborate on the specific reasons for suspending Cruise’s license, the agency accused Cruise of misrepresenting safety information about its autonomous technology. This revocation followed a series of incidents that raised concerns about the safety and operational challenges posed by Cruise’s robotaxis.

General Motors had ambitious plans for Cruise, with expectations of generating annual revenue of $1 billion from the autonomous unit by 2025, a substantial increase from the $106 million in revenue it generated last year. GM had recently halted production of the Origin, a fully autonomous vehicle designed for Cruise to provide shared transportation services, but production is expected to resume at a Detroit-area factory once Cruise’s autonomous ride-hailing services restart.

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