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The Streets of San Francisco blocked

Self driving car technology may be able to address some of the real difficult problems, but dealing with basic issues should still be cause for concern. A day after San Francisco authorized self driving cars to operate for profit on its streets, ten Cruise driverless taxis blocked the narrow Grant Avenue in North Beach, stopping traffic and closing roads. The issue turned out to be cell service failures that caused the cars to no longer communicate with their homebase. As a result the cars just stopped in their place, much like a large boulder sitting in the middle of the road.

According to Yahoo, “All traffic came to a standstill on Vallejo Street and around two corners on Grant. Human-driven cars sat stuck behind and in between the robotaxis, which might as well have been boulders: no one knew how to move them.”

They not only just tie up traffic. They block fire trucks, police cars and ambulences. The Fire Department has logged more than 55 cases of robotaxis interfering with first responders. Fire Chief Jeanine Nicholson has repeatedly said the robotaxis operated by Cruise and Waymo are getting in firefighters’ way and their technology is “not ready for prime time.”

This is just another example of the high tech industry failing to critically examine the unintended consequences of their new technology. While I’m sure the engineers focused on the really hard issues, you wonder if they ever considered simple failure modes such as this. But when a car fails and has no driver, what’s the plan? Was that even considered before approving their use?