Autonomous vehicle company Cruise has recalled part of its self-driving vehicle software and cut contract workers amid efforts by the company to “rebuild public trust” following a high-profile incident in California that involved a Cruise vehicle dragging a pedestrian.
The moves come just weeks after Cruise announced it would proactively pause driverless testing of its vehicles nationwide, including in Austin.
“Part of this involves taking a hard look inwards and at how we do work at Cruise, even if it means doing things that are uncomfortable or difficult,” the company posted on X, formerly Twitter, at the time.
The pause, which started Oct. 26, came just two days after the California Department of Motor Vehicles suspended Cruise’s testing and deployment permits in the state, amid a spat where the DMV accused the company of withholding information about an Oct. 2 hit-and-run incident, an accusation the company denied.
More:Cruise halts driverless car operations in Austin as company aims to ‘rebuild public trust’
The California-based company, which is a subsidiary of General Motors, has had a presence in Austin since September 2022 when it announced it would be expanding into Central Texas, before offering driverless rideshare services in December 2022.
What happened in October?
In a statement last month, Cruise said the October incident occurred when a human driver of a Nissan Sentra collided with a pedestrian who was crossing the street against a red light, launching the pedestrian in front of a Cruise autonomous vehicle, which braked, but “still made contact with the pedestrian.” The Cruise vehicle pulled over after stopping, “pulling the individual forward approximately 20 feet.”
Cruise has been the subject of a federal probe from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that aims to determine if the self-driving vehicles are using appropriate precautions around pedestrians.
In recent months, Cruise vehicles have been at the center of an increasing number of viral videos in Austin that show vehicles in traffic jams and stopped in intersections, which has led to concerns and questions, including from City Council member Zohaib “Zo” Qadri, about the company’s operations in Austin.
Cruise issues software recall related to October incident
On Wednesday, the company announced in a blog post that it had issued a voluntary recall impacting its 950 vehicles. Recalls related to vehicle software typically occur over air, so no cars are pulled off the road.
The company said a software update has been deployed to the company’s vehicles that are operating with a human driver supervising, and that it plans to do the same with its driverless vehicles once those operations resume. Cruise said as it improves its software there are likely to be additional recalls to enhance safety.
“As part of our larger efforts to assess, identify and remedy issues as we work with NHTSA and other regulators, we have issued a voluntary recall of part of our AV (autonomous vehicle) software based on a new analysis of our AV’s post-collision response on October 2,” the company said in an announcement.
According to the blog post and in a recall notice from the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, the recall is meant to address what a Cruise vehicle does following a collision.
“The recall addresses circumstances in which the Cruise collision detection subsystem may cause the Cruise AV to attempt to pull over out of traffic instead of remaining stationary when a pullover is not the desired post-collision response,” the blog post said.
The recall notice said on Oct. 2, the Cruise software “inaccurately characterized the collision as a lateral collision and commanded the AV to attempt to pull over out of traffic, pulling the individual forward, rather than remaining stationary.”
Previous:Why Cruise’s driverless car permits were just suspended by the California DMV
Cutting contract positions
As the pause on rideshare operations continues, Cruise confirmed to the American-Statesman on Thursday it is cutting a number of contract positions.
“Cruise has made the difficult decision to reduce a portion of the contingent workforce that supported driverless ridehail operations. These contingent workers were responsible for work such as cleaning, charging and maintaining the fleet, and we’re grateful for their contributions,” a Cruise spokesperson said in a statement.
The company did not share how many people were laid off. It also did not say if any Austin workers were impacted by the cuts.
Impacted Cruise workers were in contract positions employed by third-party vendors and staffing firms, and did work including cleaning, charging and maintaining the company’s fleet, and answering rider questions related to issues such as missing items.
Are there still self-driving cars in Austin?
Prior to its pause, Cruise has been operating in downtown, Central and East Austin between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. with plans to expand over time. While the company is not currently offering public rides, it does still test vehicles monitored by human safety drivers.
Companies including Waymo and Volkswagen are also testing vehicles in Austin. Ford and Argo AI were testing self-driving vehicle technology in Austin including rideshare and delivery services, before Argo AI shut down last year.
In Texas autonomous vehicles are regulated by state laws. A 2021 state law prohibits political subdivisions of the state, such as cities, from regulating automated driving systems or motor system.
A separate law, which passed in 2017, allows autonomous vehicles to operate without a driver inside and can be used on highways as long as they can follow traffic laws. The vehicles must have insurance like other cars, be equipped with video recording equipment, and the manufacturers are considered responsible for any broken laws or collisions.