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Autonomous Rideshare Returns to Dallas (Sort Of)

California-based Cruise is back on Dallas streets this week with manually-driven vehicles as the company works its way back toward autonomous rideshare.
Courtesy: Cruise

After shutting down all of its autonomous rideshare business across the country in November when a vehicle injured a pedestrian in California, Cruise has returned to Dallas this week as the company rebuilds trust.

The San Francisco-based GM subsidiary was on the brink of launching in Dallas when it paused operations last fall to reexamine some of its processes, systems, and tools. This week, Cruise vehicles will again be on the streets of Dallas, but they will begin with human drivers without any autonomous systems engaged. The Chevy Bolts will create maps of the streets and validate the company’s technology.

When the vehicles meet Cruise’s safety benchmarks, they will transition to supervised autonomous driving with a safety driver present, ready to take the wheel if needed, and AI driving the vehicle. While no specific timeline has been established for transitioning from manual to supervised safety drivers, Cruise hopes it happens in the coming weeks. The company plans to launch driverless vehicles, which are bookable through Cruise’s app like other rideshare services when further safety benchmarks are met. Phoenix and Dallas are hosting Cruise’s relaunch.

“Cruise believes AVs will save lives and significantly reduce the number and severity of collisions on America’s roads every year,” says Cruise Co-President and Chief Administrative Officer Craig Glidden. “As we take this next important step towards our driverless mission, we are thrilled to be back on the road in the City of Dallas and are grateful for the opportunity to partner with the City to jointly achieve safer transportation for all.”

How We Got Here

Last September, Cruise conducted supervised testing on Dallas streets while a safety driver was behind the wheel, and the vehicles drove autonomously in Oak Lawn, Uptown, Downtown, Deep Ellum, and Lower Greenville. Then, in mid-October, Cruise said the vehicles would begin operating 24/7 without a safety driver while Cruise employees took rides as they prepared to open to the public.

But the vehicles were banned in California after one of them failed to stop and dragged a pedestrian on October 2 last year. A person was hit by another car and thrown in front of a Cruise vehicle, which stopped but hit the person. Next, in an attempt to pull out of traffic, the car dragged the pedestrian 20 feet, and the person was critically injured after being run over by the vehicle. Cruise recalled nearly 1,000 vehicles from the streets of San Francisco following the incident.

California’s Department of Motor Vehicles revoked Cruise’s license after the accident, and the company announced it was suspending driverless operations nationwide later that month. Cruise told federal regulators that a software update would prevent that sort of accident from happening again and enacted a voluntary software recall.

Cruise was drawing fire before the October 2 crash. In September, protestors gathered outside the company’s San Francisco headquarters after the city’s fire department said the company’s vehicles blocked an ambulance from getting to the hospital. The ambulance was carrying a patient who later died. Cruise disputed the claim, and video evidence backed up the company, but there were other complaints about the vehicles blocking traffic, sometimes for hours at a time, according to TechCrunch.

In addition to the relaunch, Cruise made several changes in response to the incidents and pause. The company hired a new Chief Safety Officer and added Glidden to the C-Suite. Glidden is an executive vice president for legal, policy, cybersecurity, and corporate secretary at GM. Mo Elshenawy was elevated to co-president and chief technology officer.

The company implemented recommendations from a third-party law firm that analyzed the dragging incident and reiterated its promise to promote safety and transparency in an open letter from leadership. “Safety has always been our guiding principle, and it continues to be what motivates us—because every life lost on our roads is unacceptable,” it says. “We know that self-driving technology has the potential to save lives, make cities safer, and improve life for everyone.” 


Will Maddox

Will Maddox

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Will is the senior writer for D CEO magazine and the editor of D CEO Healthcare. He's written about healthcare…