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.
Hi @friscolive415 - A large festival posed wireless bandwidth constraints causing delayed connectivity to our vehicles. We are actively investigating and working on solutions to prevent this from happening again. We apologize to those who were impacted.– cruise (@Cruise) August 12, 2023
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.