Have autonomous driving cars reached AI sentience? Are the robotaxis planning a robo-takeover? It seemed like they might be when they blocked traffic for hours Tuesday night in San Francisco. Then, when you looked a bit closer, you could see that that the eight self-driving Cruise vehicles had navigated to the same street corner corner by mistake, stopping in a confused herd like dithering cows.
The jam was only resolved when Cruise employees arrived hours later to manually move the allegedly autonomous vehicles out of the way, according to a report from TechCrunch.
Photos tweeted out from the incident seemed to indicate that the cars were specifically stuck at the corner of Gough and Fulton streets. The pictures show at least eight cars stopped across two lanes of the road.
“We had an issue earlier this week that caused some of our vehicles to cluster together. While it was resolved and no passengers were impacted, we apologize to anyone who was inconvenienced,” Cruise spokesperson Drew Pusateri, wrote to Gizmodo in an email. Pusateri declined to provide any further details on what caused the cars to “cluster.”
The company said the cause of the jam had been found and fixed, though posters in a Reddit thread had their own ideas about the cars’ motives, from unionizing to plotting humanity’s downfall. The original poster in the thread described the Cruise car pile-up as “surreal,” and noted that the cars blocked a street sweeper from accessing the block—a local violation usually punishable with a $76 fine per car.
The California Public Utilities Commission authorized Cruise to run a 30-car driverless vehicle fleet in San Francisco earlier this month. One of the stipulations, however, was that the robotaxis can only operate between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. when roads are less crowded. Cruise is the first self-driving car company to get approved to operate its vehicles in the city without a human back-up driver (unlike Alphabet-owned competitor Waymo).
Approval aside though, Cruise cars haven’t exactly inspired confidence in the past. In April, a driverless Cruise taxi was pulled over by police for nighttime driving with no headlights, and then sped away from the cops.
Other autonomous vehicle companies have also found themselves facing similarly odd and bad car behaviors. Waymo’s SF fleet kept routing down a dead-end street last year. Human drivers aren’t perfect, but clearly neither is a system dependent on people to rescue it.