back to article Cruise patches robo-taxi software to not drag humans across the road anymore

Cruise has pushed a handy update to its self-driving taxi fleet so that they will no longer drag pedestrians along the road after running them over. The GM subsidiary submitted what is technically a recall notice [PDF] to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Tuesday, saying it needed to fix up the robo- …

  1. Scoular

    The self driving problem cannot be solved by rules it is going to require actual intelligence.

    We await the real breakthrough.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not happening in your lifetime

      Self driving is a problem that never gets solved. There are too many humans on the roads, and too many roads built my humans and all of that equals unsolvable problems.

      The race is to reach a point where the hit rate (car to person or thereabouts) is acceptable. Presumably, that means when it's lower than human driver hit rates. But, also presumably, it has to keep the hit rate low enough whilst chasing that goal so it doesn't get banned/ ostricised altogether. Arguably, that's a political race and not a technological one.

      I suspect that's why Cruise appoints a safety office when it looks like it's going to get fucked - instead of having a safety officer that is overseeing all engineerting from the start? It's politics.

      1. Steve Hersey

        Re: Not happening in your lifetime

        Perhaps the most useful comparison to human drivers is this one: If you have human driver who very rarely gets into a collision over many, many km driven, but still obstructs emergency vehicles, drives through crime scenes, blocks roads randomly, and tries to drive with a trapped pedestrian under the car, would you revoke their license? So would I...

        I'll grant you that this may not objectively be the best measure of driver safety, but it's definitely the one we would apply to a human. And humans do reasonably well in those corner cases that AI cars just cannot manage.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Not happening in your lifetime

          ... and if I drove over someone and dragged them down the road instead of stopping the police would be asking questions and I might be looking at time in jail.... who's in the dock for this one? Who will go to jail if found guilty of whatever the US equivalent of 'driving without due care and attention'?

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: Not happening in your lifetime

            Lorry drivers do it with cyclists and bikers all the time, especially in London

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Not happening in your lifetime

        "Presumably, that means when it's lower than human driver hit rates."

        I can just imagine some big US operation declaring "problem solved" because their cars are 0.00001% "better" than human drivers. And then wondering why the UK and/or EU tell them there is NO FUCKING WAY their death-trap AVs will be allowed on their roads until they meet their much higher standards. The death rates on US roads are not a target to be aiming at only just beating.

    2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      The self driving problem cannot be solved by rules

      Especially 'moar IT'.

      The problem is that the Silicon Valley techbros think that all problems in life can be solved with an appropriate set of technologies and algorithms (which, natuarry, they alone posess) when, as everyine else know, life is a messy, complicated thing that doesn't respond well to automation.. (especially automation that expects peoples' behaviour to change in presence of said automation)

  2. martinusher Silver badge

    Missing a vital component

    If you're used to industrial machinery you'll notice that in the general area of a machine will be a conspicuously labelled 'Emergency Stop' button. The function of this control is to immediately half the machine in case of accident or malfunction. Traditionally this has meant "Cut the Power and Apply Brakes" but there is a modern standard for "QuickStop", the idea that a machine many not need to just stop but hold in a position and maybe be able to be maneuvered (pushed, even) out of the way.

    Cars don't really have an Emergency Stop -- we've seen instances of cars running away with the driver unable to stop them -- but mostly if they hit something or the operator is taken away the machine stops. They're designed to only be derivable by a person and without that person they just won't work. Adding a computer that can control the machine without some kind of emergency shutdown is asking for trouble. It also points to a rather glaring flaw in the design, a variation on the "traffic cone" problem -- if you do add any kind of external emergency stop to the vehicle then people are going to press it if they have a chance, "just because".

    FWIW -- Trains are capable of running autonomously but they rarely do. Ones with a human operator will stop unless the operator is actively working the controls. Autonomous metro trains tend to have an operator just to oversee the operation of the train and to manage boarding at stations. (In fact, the only truly autonomous train that I know of hauls ore in the middle of nowhere, Australia where a systems failure isn't going to hurt anyone.)

    1. Orv Silver badge

      Re: Missing a vital component

      In the US, truly unsupervised autonomous trains are mostly confined to situations where the right-of-way is completely off-limits to humans -- elevated railways or subways with platform doors. The technology of running the train safely is solved but not dealing with all the things that can get into an unguarded right-of-way.

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: Missing a vital component

        In the US, truly unsupervised autonomous trains are mostly confined to situations where the right-of-way is completely off-limits to humans

        A lot of the Docklands Light Railway in London is like that - it's a mostly-autonomous railway origally in the Canary Wharf are of London (now expanded out to cover other areas). The do have a guard on each train (grandly called a Passenger Service Agent) who can, in an emergency, unlock the panel that hides the local controls. Other than that, it's all automated.

        (Fun fact - one of my brothers worked on the original GEC General Signal setup for DLR. That's all been ripped out now and was replaced by Alcatel kit (who were then bought up by Thales).

    2. Neil Barnes Silver badge
      Stop

      Re: Missing a vital component

      I was wondering if these autonomous vehicles did indeed have a big red stop button (two actually; one inside and one out) that would turn the computer off and stop the thing doing anything... I wouldn't want to do anything to a vehicle with a running engine - like sticking a jack under it to perhaps get someone out - and the problem is compounded when a computer might decide at any time to do something unexpected.

      First rule as a first aid responder: make sure the situation is safe. With these cars I'm not sure that's possible without an external big red button.

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Missing a vital component

      "if you do add any kind of external emergency stop to the vehicle then people are going to press it if they have a chance, "just because"."

      Public transport buses all have them, usually on the back, where it might be hard for the driver to see someone sneak up nehind and press it at a junction or bus stop. Been there for as long as I can remember, so at least 5+ decades. I don't recall ever seeing a news report of people pressing the emergency stop buttons "just because". But, I have no doubt it HAS been done, but not in any significant numbers that it made news. On the other hand, if the Big Red Stop Button was mandated on AV cars, their very existence would probably make the news and the TicTok/YouTube crowds would be all over it and suddenly there's be gridlock all over the "test areas" as the kids discovered a new game that has, in reality, been possible for decades but they didn't know about it :-)

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If only god could push an update to humans who knock pedestrians under AVs then drive off.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      This is a rather excellent point that is often glaringly overlooked. It's particularly relevant in that the poor woman had already been hit by a meat-bag driver, who's firmware instructed him to drive off entirely.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        This is a good point, but...

        We know that human drivers aren't perfect. So there does need to be a way of measuring to see when the machines are out-performing us.

        However we're now starting to get more info on this accident. The initial story was that the nasty hit-and-run knocked them into the path of the poor robot taxi, that parked on top of her, and had to be craned off by the fire services. Oh, is that bad? Well maybe, but then driving off her might be bad too. Of course, now we hear that in fact it dragged her under the car, and then carried on driving to the kerb - and then parked on top of her and had to be craned off.

        So now the system is being patched. But there's no way you can patch for all these edge-cases. So in those kind of circumstances we need actual intelligence behind the wheel.

        Because the computer probably did better at an emergency stop when a pedestrian was thrown in front of it. On pure reaction times. But then did much worse than most humans would.

        The other problem we have is that self-driving companies are pouring billions into this technology. And so can't be trusted on their reporting of how safe their vehicles are. Particularly given that I don't think they've thought the safety aspects through fully. For example, what to do if we've hit a pedestrian should have already been thought of and coded for. It's an obvious thing to think of. Unless you're convinced that your system is brilliant, and won't run someone over - so you don't need to worry about it.

        I'd have thought that self-driving tech would be much better on the motorways. Where human inattention has much higher risks of killing people. And where the driving problem is a whole lot simpler than complex town environments. But of course, that doesn't make for cool self-driving taxis. And also risks the computer fuck-ups being much more catastrophic. But the problem of doing it this way round, is that the problem is so much harder.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Found the issue boss!

    Someone forgot to check the box: “Avoid dragging humans under a moving car”

    All fixed now.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Found the issue boss!

      That's an option only available if you pay an extra $7.99 per monnth for the premium "Pedestrian Pack".

      Still it's cheaper than the $15.99 upgrade required to recognise that cyclists aren't either middle-of-the-carriageway trees, or possibly lost pedestrians. And in that particular case, Uber had programmed the vehicle not to stop until it recognised what the object was - so it just plowed into her without braking - while it made it's mind up.

      Personally I suspect this woud all go better if they made me Safety Director for all the self-driving companies. Have baseball bat, will travel! Percussive maintenance works on shoddy system deswigners, as well as faulty hardware...

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Found the issue boss!

        >the $15.99 upgrade required to recognise that cyclists aren't either middle-of-the-carriageway trees

        Sorry, why am I paying extra to identify cyclists?

        Shouldn't you be selling subscriptions to cyclists to not be hit by robo-cars?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Found the issue boss!

          Fscking smug cyclists with their cardio health, low BMI, muscled calves and tight butts, being allowed to wear Lycra in public....

    2. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: Found the issue boss!

      It's an AI so nothing so simple exists. They had to drive over thousands of pedestrians to train it.

  5. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Root cause analysis

    The root cause of the problem was the other human driven car that knocked the pedestrian down

    The obvious mitigation would be for the robo-taxi to be able to intervene and stop the human driven car before this happened

    Since this is America, the only acceptable solution involves guns, so equipping all robo-taxis with automatic gun turrets is the way forward.

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Root cause analysis

      Drive offensively!

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