Through the looking glass: Are robotaxis safe? What happens when you have an army of AI systems equipped with a weapon that killed 42,915 people in the US in 2021? Could they turn on us? That's what some Redditors jokingly thought about after a group of unmanned taxis gathered on a city street and blocked up traffic for hours.
A test group of Cruise robotaxis in San Francisco simultaneously came to a halt and stopped traffic on city streets for several hours on Tuesday. The autonomous collective ceased all functions for unknown reasons, and human engineers had to come out to retrieve the vehicles manually.
Cruise is a joint venture between General Motors and Honda. The city of San Francisco approved testing of the unmanned vehicles, and trials commenced in February. Starting last week, Cruise began commercial tests, but the cars are extremely restricted for safety.
The level 5 (fully autonomous) taxis can only pick up fares between 10pm and 6am on "select streets." They can only operate in clear weather conditions and go no faster than 30mph.
Some @Cruise robotaxis appeared to be stuck in SF last night at the corner of Gough St. and Fulton St.--- Taylor Ogan (@TaylorOgan) June 30, 2022
Human ops apparently had to rescue them. Still some kinks to iron out. pic.twitter.com/eXDocjVfHU
The blockage involved at least five Cruise vehicles and forced a street sweeper to skip the entire block. Typically, penalties for blocking sweepers run $76 per car, but it is unclear how the city handles autonomous vehicles and whether Cruise will receive any fines.
It is also unclear how all the cars gathered together in the first place. A Cruise spokesperson apologized for the incident but could not explain what happened.
"We had an issue earlier this week that caused some of our vehicles to cluster together," the spokesperson told TechCrunch. "While it was resolved and no passengers were impacted, we apologize to anyone who was inconvenienced."
The incident leaves Cruise's commercial program in question. Will it go back to having safety drivers for a while? Will it revert to the testing phase, or will it continue running fares? Will city officials even allow it to continue operating at level 5 after this event?
A lot probably depends on how fast engineers can determine what went wrong. Hopefully, it wasn't what one Redditor jokingly suggested.
"The first thing I say to my co-worker is that they're getting together to murder us," wrote the Seansinha. "It was a pretty surreal event."