Listen to this article
How will first responders interact with autonomous vehicles? This is one of many questions looming over the development of this emerging technology. Well, over the weekend, a Cruise robotaxi had an interaction with San Francisco police. And it was all captured on video.
In the video, which you can watch above, the Cruise robotaxi is stopped at a red light, with a police car behind it. As the light turns green, a member of the San Francisco Police Department gets out of his car and approaches the robotaxi, apparently because the vehicle’s headlights weren’t on. It’s unclear why the headlights weren’t on. But Cruise’s robotaxis are only permitted to drive between 10 PM and 6 AM, so having working headlights is an important safety feature.
The police officer tries to open the driver’s side door, but it’s locked. As he heads back to his police car, the Cruise robotaxi drives off before quickly pulling over and flashing its hazard lights less than 10 seconds later. There’s plenty of “police chase” chatter online, but Cruise said things went according to plan.
“Chiming in with more details,” Cruise said on Twitter. “Our AV yielded to the police vehicle, then pulled over to the nearest safe location for the traffic stop, as intended. An officer contacted Cruise personnel and no citation was issued.
“We work closely with the SFPD on how to interact with our vehicles, including a dedicated phone number for them to call in situations like this.”
The video doesn’t start until the robotaxi is stopped at a red light, so it prompts several unanswered questions. How long was the vehicle operating without working headlights? Why didn’t it move when the light turned green? Did the robotaxi sense a person approaching the vehicle, so it stayed in place out of caution? When the police car started moving to catch up to the robotaxi, the police car started to flash its lights. Is this how the Cruise robotaxi understand to pull over less than 10 seconds later?
Cruise put together this “Driverless Deployment Program Guidance for First Responders” document that includes information about the driverless vehicles, how to identify them, how to determine what mode a vehicle is operating in, how to contact Cruise and much more.
There’s a lot of interested bystanders and laughter in the video, as the situation is quite interesting. This is certainly the first time I’ve ever seen a video with police interacting with a fully autonomous vehicle. But this will happen more and more in San Francisco, where both Cruise and Waymo are operating robotaxi services.
Updated at 1:10 PM on April 11, 2022: Cruise emailed the following additional details about the story: “The incident was April 1 in the Richmond District – a human error led to the AV not having its headlights on, which was the reason the SFPD approached it, and we have fixed the issue that led to this.
The AV yielded to the police car and stopped in the lane. Once it was clear that the AV was the subject of the traffic stop, and the officer was clear of the vehicle, Cruise personnel directed the AV to pull over at the nearest safe location, which was across the intersection.”
Rashed Haq, VP of robotics for Cruise, was a recent guest on The Robot Report Podcast. You can listen to the interview below. Haq discussed the current deployment of Cruise autonomous robotaxis in San Francisco and what the company expects to learn from the experience as it gradually expands its operating scope. He also talked about the challenges in creating and optimizing machine learning models that make decisions in the safe operation of autonomous vehicles.