Driverless car got in fire engine’s way in San Francisco

A fire engine on way to a fire has reportedly been delayed by the combination of a rubbish truck blocking a lane and the poor performance of a Cruise driverless vehicle.

Forbes reports that this is the third recent incident between the Cruise robotaxis and the City of San Francisco, which may interfere with their plans to expand their operating permit in the city. The situation is, as usual, complex.

The report says that in April at 4am, a fire crew was on the way to a fire when its lane was blocked by a rubbish truck. A Cruise vehicle with nobody in it was moving in the oncoming lane. According to Cruise, their vehicle detected the fire truck and as it is programmed to do, pulled to the right and stopped (avoiding blocking any intersection) and summoned remote assistance. However the oncoming lane was not wide enough for the fire engine to pass, so the truck driver got into that vehicle and got it out of the way.

The report says the fire engine was delayed only 25 seconds, which is probably not an unusual thing to happen, and so the San Francisco Fire Department is probably overstating the seriousness of this incident, though it points out the fire caused property damage and minor injuries and it’s understandable that every second counts. The garbage truck was the main cause of the blockage, but this is what those trucks do. A more interesting question is how could they have done better and what would have happened if the garbage truck had not moved?

It says the Cruise vehicle found itself in a predicament – parked cars prevented it from pulling off to the right (as it is programmed to do) sufficiently to clear the lane for the fire engine. This was right at an intersection, so to back up to clear the path would have involved backing up into an intersection, something the vehicles is generally programmed not to do. While Cruise vehicles can reportedly back up, this is not a situation where they want to. Cruise declined to say whether it could have eventually backed up into an intersection (on its own or under command from remote assistance) or not. SFFD seems to feel a human driven car could have pulled this off, though in the end it was not necessary since the rubbish truck got out of the way.

(Picture – Cruise)


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