Austin (KXAN) — Cruise, a company that operates autonomous vehicles for rideshares and deliveries, said it has improved its technology to better detect emergency vehicles.
According to the company’s blog, innovations to its AV tech include better siren detection, slowing down when a scene or siren has been detected, and recognizing and avoiding emergency scenes.
KXAN.com reached out to several emergency response agencies who said companies like Cruise have been in touch with them to help develop its detection systems.
Captain Darren Noak with Austin-Travis County EMS said it provided several vehicles to the company to help its software become familiar with what its emergency vehicles look like.
Noak said recently there was an incident where an AV, it is unclear if this was a Cruise vehicle, approached a medical scene.
He said the vehicle merged into a right-hand lane, sensed an ambulance, then moved back into the left-hand lane.
Noak said ATCEMS is now keeping track of encounters crews have with AVs. He said this is part of an initiative lead by a multi-agency AV Task Force.
Noak also said ATCEMS is currently developing training materials and protocols for its crews on how to interact with AVs if they’re encountered in the field.
“The presence of them on our streets is probably here to stay. We’re here to take care of the patients. We of course, want our our medics to be safe on the street when dealing with those vehicles or interacting around them as well,” Noak said.
Captain Matt McElearney with the Austin Fire Department said the agency is also a part of that AV task force. He said companies like Cruise have also reached out to AFD to develop emergency vehicle detection.
McElearney said the department began drafting training for firefighters back in July once it was clear that the driverless car industry was growing in Austin.
McElearney said he hopes communications with these companies will continue, but more work is needed to keep drivers safe.
“In the state of Texas it would be great for them to regulate this. There probably needs to be federal regulation as well with this industry because frankly, it’s a little bit like the wild, wild west out there,” McElearney said.
Driverless cars stop traffic in Austin
The news of Cruise’s improvements for emergency vehicle detection comes after a few troubled months for its driverless cars.
On several occasions, videos of its driverless cars stopping in the middle of the road or blocking traffic circulated online. The latest incident involved stopped cars this past September.
The City of Austin provided a statement on driverless cars and these new changes for Cruise. It stressed that it continues to work with AV companies and their developments and does not have the ability to regulate the industry per state law.
“Multiple autonomous vehicle (AV) operators have afforded the City of Austin an open line of communication since launching operations within the city. Additionally, Austin Transportation and Public Works staff have been collecting incident information to relay to the appropriate operators. State law precludes the City of Austin from regulating AVs or directing operators on how to manage their fleets. The City understands AV technology is novel and undergoing continual improvement. Efforts to improve safety and remove impedances for our first responders to effectively perform their duties are always welcomed.
The City of Austin