Cruise provides update on collision between Autonomous Vehicle crash with San Francisco Fire Engine

    Overnight, one of Cruise’s Autonomous Vehicles was involved in an accident with a fire engine. The company has just provided an update on the situation.

    The accident resulted in the airbags in the Cruise vehicle being deployed and the single passenger was injured and required hospitalisation.

    Cruise says they have been in contact with the customer and continue to offer their support. They do not share any further details on the injuries sustained.

    In terms of what occurred around the scene of the collision, the investigation continues, but what is known so far is the following.

    Cruise says their Autonomous Vehicle (AV) positively identified the emergency vehicle almost immediately as it came into view, which is consistent with our underlying safety design and expectation.

    Cruise then points to this specific intersection being challenging for humans and AVs alike, with objects significantly occluded by buildings, meaning that it is not possible to see objects around the corner until they are physically very close to the intersection. 

    The AV’s ability to successfully chart the emergency vehicle’s path was complicated by the fact that the emergency vehicle was in the oncoming lane of traffic, which it had moved into to bypass the red light.

    Autonomous vehicles need to accommodate other vehicles doing strange things and emergency services won’t always take traditional paths through traffic, in an effort to reach their destination as fast as possible.  

    Cruise says their AVs have the ability to detect emergency sirens, which increases their ability to operate safely around emergency vehicles and accompanying scenes. In this instance, the AV identified the siren as soon as it was distinguishable from the background noise. 

    Cruise did not share the most important detail around the timing of this, with the biggest question being, how long was the delay between detection and collision? Understanding this would allow us to determine where the issue truly lies, whether was it an issue in detection, pointing to a potential hardware issue, or a response from the software to guide the vehicle on a path that didn’t intersect with the fire engine?

    The Cruise AV did identify the risk of a collision and initiated a braking maneuver, reducing its speed, but was ultimately unable to avoid the collision. By this point, it sounds like the collision was inevitable and the car was attempting to minimise speed to lower the impact to the rider, possibly the right course of action, but had the system worked as it should have, actions to change the path of the car and avoid the collision, should have occurred prior to this.

    Cruise then moves to put this fairly rare incident in context, highlighting that they have had more than 168,000 interactions with emergency vehicles just in the first 7 months of this year alone.

    It isn’t clear exactly what they mean by ‘interaction’, if they’re counting the emergency services vehicles passing through an intersection while the car was already stopped at a traffic light, I wouldn’t be counting that personally, not would I give them credit for going straight as an emergency vehicle passes by in an adjacent lane as these were not a software intervention in response to the approaching vehicle.

    This incident follows a rough month for Cruise, with their vehicles recently getting confused and blocking streets.

    This was followed by another Autonomous Cruise vehicle driving into wet cement.

    Jason Cartwright
    Jason Cartwright
    Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis. Disclaimer: Tesla Shareholder from 20/01/2021

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