Cruise robotaxis blocked San Francisco traffic again as company blames network congestion

Daniel Sims

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Facepalm: San Francisco has been experiencing problems with autonomous taxis for at least a year, with authorities and others reporting numerous incidents. The latest glitch causing public inconvenience comes just as two companies gained the right to operate autonomous vehicles in the city around the clock.

A fleet of self-driving cars from taxi company Cruise recently became stuck in the middle of three San Francisco streets, causing a massive traffic jam. It's the second time Cruise robotaxis have blocked traffic, supposedly due to a software glitch.

The recent jam that gained the most attention occurred in North Beach. Videos on social media depict at least several self-driving cars stopped in the middle of the street with their hazard lights blinking. Human drivers can be seen stuck behind and between the robotaxis.

Cruise responded by claiming that a large nearby festival consumed so much network bandwidth that it interrupted the vehicle connectivity. If true, the incident could expose network conditions as a potentially significant weakness for self-driving cars.

Other Cruise vehicles became immobile on Balboa Street and 30th Avenue around the same time, preventing people from leaving the Golden Gate Park music festival and causing road closures between Balboa and Anza streets. A police officer successfully drove one car out of the jam but couldn't gain access to the others.

The company's robotaxis caused a similar traffic jam last July when at least five cars inexplicably stopped in the middle of an intersection. Cruise had no idea what caused the disruption. The incident was one of almost 100 troublesome occurrences involving autonomous cars that city authorities reported between May and December 2022. In some of those, firefighters said that the vehicles obstructed their work. Emergency services also complained of wasted time and resources when Cruise staff called 911 after passengers fell asleep in its robotaxis.

Some activists started taking drastic steps to voice their displeasure with the emerging technology. Safe Street Rebel, an anti-autonomous car group, began sabotaging self-driving vehicles by placing traffic cones on their hoods, forcing them to stop. The organization is against self-driving cars due to safety and surveillance concerns, as the robotaxis operate using multiple cameras. The protest is part of an effort to make roads safer for bikers and pedestrians while encouraging more funding for public transportation.

Despite the reports and protests, California recently granted autonomous rideshare companies Cruise and Waymo permission to operate their vehicles 24 hours a day. More incidents and demonstrations are likely to occur.

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So, what happens if there is a network problem or a hacker attack?
Everything is going to be paralyzed?
It is just one car, it could be hundredth all in one area.
Well yeah. That's exactly what will happen.

But dont worry. We asked them to pretty please not do it, so it wont happen! Now tie your entire life to the internet!
 
Wow, what a bad design. Cruise's autonomous cars cannot work without sufficient network. They do know that they are supposed to be "autonomous", right? I mean, at the very least they should detect a lack of bandwidth and simply pull over to the side of the road. Just freaking out and causing a traffic jam is ridiculous. If their cars just "give up the ghost" when internet connectivity is limited, then their engineers and their testing people are incompetent. I mean, dealing with poor/lost comms with your robot is like autonomy 101. How did California safety regulators not think to test this before giving them the green light to expand? Oh, yeah, $$$$.
 
The blame appears to be more of a program issue rather than the excuse provided. They need to get this solved NOW.
 
Growing pains. They will fix those issues eventually. For now, the cars do not seem to be that autonomous for reasons we do not know.
 
Seems absurd. I mean, if they lose network connectivity, they can't pull over and park? Stopping dead in the middle of traffic is ridiculous.
 
The machines are alive!

Beware, humans! It's the rise of the machines, soon going to take over the world.
 
Interesting. These drive passed my work everyday, I'd say during my morning commute, they're even the most common vehicle to see on the roads when getting near my job.

As a TV Broadcast Engineer, we rarely use microwave and satellite links for news anymore, instead camera operators and news photographers carry around a backpack containing a TVU Pack or LiveU Pack. Each of those packs is smattered with AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile SIM cards. Often times, we even have extra SIMs that put us on the same network as first responders, because TV news is often treated that way. I think most of our packs come with 7 total SIMs.

You'd have to think that these cars would have a similar array of network connectivity, enough that the emergency and first responder network would still be available...
 
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