A group of self-driving Cruise robotaxis blocked traffic in San Francisco for hours on Tuesday night after the cars stopped operating without explanation.
Details of the incident were shared on Reddit (and spotted by TechCrunch) and illustrate how driverless cars still have teething problems in practice.
Cruise, which is backed by General Motors and Honda, has been testing its technology in San Francisco since February, but only launched a commercial robotic taxi service last week. The cars have no human safety driver at all, but operate under certain restrictions. They only offer lifts on “selected streets” between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. when the weather conditions are favorable, and they cannot go faster than 50 mph.
Photos of the driverless roadblock show that at least five vehicles have stopped on the street. The redditor who shared the photos said the incident happened around midnight.
“The first thing I say to my colleague is that they come together to kill us,” redditor Seansinha said in a response. “It was quite a surreal event. People had to come and manually remove the cars. Cruise should be fined for blocking the street for so long. They’ve even made it so that the street sweeper can’t hit a whole block.”
Seansinha said Cruise employees got to the incident “within twenty minutes”, but it took a long time to actually move the cars. “It was a huge debacle,” he said.
A spokesperson for Cruise acknowledged the incident in a statement to: TechCrunchbut didn’t give any details as to why it happened and whether the problem could reoccur in the future.
“We had an issue earlier this week that caused some of our vehicles to clump together,” the spokesperson said. “While it was resolved and no passengers were affected, we apologize to anyone who was inconvenienced.”
It is not the first accident involving Cruise’s driverless technology. Earlier this year, a police officer tried to put a Cruise robot taxi aside, apparently because the car’s headlights were turned off at night. Cruise later said the incident was due to “human error.” “Our AV succumbed to the police vehicle and then pulled over as intended to the nearest safe location for the traffic stop,” the company said. “An officer contacted Cruise personnel and no subpoena was issued.”