"Based on the simulation results, we can't rule out that a fully autonomous vehicle might have struck the child."
Late last month, Cruise — that's General Motors' autonomous vehicle division — announced it was suspending all driverless operations, citing safety concerns. A major setback, the decision followed the California DMV's revoking of Cruise's robotaxi permit after several incidents of its cars endangering pedestrians, including one in which a woman was struck and pinned.
Now, there may be even more reason to question Cruise's purported safety, with The Intercept reporting that the division has been long aware that its cars struggled to recognize children and as such risked running them down. And yet it apparently kept its robotaxis on the road, in another damning sign of a mismanaged company in crisis.
One safety assessment reveals how the vehicles were failing to play it safe around children as intended, such as slowing down near crosswalks or when approaching a child near the road. "Cruise AVs may not exercise additional care around children," the assessment said.
Simulated scenarios confirmed these fears. In one test, a Cruise robotaxi hit a toddler-sized dummy with its side mirror at 28 miles per hour — despite detecting it.
"Based on the simulation results, we can't rule out that a fully autonomous vehicle might have struck the child," one assessment reads.
Safer Than What?
By and large, the self-driving industry's self-proclaimed raison d'etre is that its technology will "save lives" by being safer than human drivers. But Cruise's safety performance around children has proved to be anything but. By its own documents' admission, its robotaxis failed to clear the bare minimum standard of driving as safely as the average Uber driver.
"It's I think especially egregious to be making the argument that Cruise's safety record is better than a human driver," Bryant Walker Smith, a law professor at the University of South Carolina who focuses on self-driving technology, told The Intercept. "It's pretty striking that there's a memo that says we could hit more kids than an average rideshare driver, and the apparent response of management is, keep going."
Thankfully, no kids are known to have been hit by its cars. But in endeavoring to fix this issue, Cruise robotaxis actually got worse at identifying children, according to materials viewed by The Intercept. In fact, the GM division even admitted to an error that caused its vehicles to lose track of children, though it claims this issue was fixed.
Light of Day
Above all, for a company built around safety, Cruise hasn't been awfully transparent.
Rather than admitting the notable risk its robotaxis posed to kids, it pushed a temporary workaround: operating fewer cars during the day when more kids are around, according to an internal memo. It did not mention the child safety measures as a reason for its shift in operating hours.
For its part, Cruise maintains that "it is inaccurate to say that our AVs were not detecting or exercising appropriate caution around pedestrian children." But clearly its internal documents tell a different story.
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