An SFPD policeman stopped a self-driving car. What does the viral event mean for the future of SF?

When a traffic policeman stopped a robot car on the streets of San Francisco this month, that connection clearly revealed the divide between the present and the future.

“There is no one in it; This is crazy, “said a confused SFPD official.

An autonomous Chevy Bolt headlight from a cruise in San Francisco was stopped for not lighting. It was stopped for a while by police, then departed, crossed an intersection and stopped in front of a Chinese restaurant, after which it “went to a safe place near the traffic stop,” Cruz explained.

The officer and two colleagues surrounded the vehicle, tried to open the doors, peeked out the windows, and the lights were on inside. Eventually, according to Cruise and the SFPD, officers called Cruise, who took over the car’s remote control. No quote provided.

Experts say the incident shows that autonomous-car companies still have a way of detecting human-robot interactions – some of the shortcomings may have been corrected by basic common sense.

Such situations are now more common as General Motors’ spin-off cruise and Google Thai Alphabet’s self-driving division Vemo both drive autonomous cars without anyone behind the wheel on California public roads.

Both companies are testing robot-taxi rides for staff and select members of the public in San Francisco, offering its winding streets, steep hills and numerous two-wheelers and pedestrians the popular “dark” traffic training ground.

A convoy of cruise vehicles is spotted in the company parking lot in San Francisco on Wednesday, December 9, 2020. Cruise, a subsidiary of General Motors, said on Wednesday it was testing five real driverless cars in San Francisco, a milestone in the development of robot cars. .

Special to Nick Otto / The Chronicle

Robot car companies “try to lead regimes full of uncertainty and flaws in the small dances between a law enforcement officer and a vehicle,” said Bryan Walker Smith, a law teacher at the University of South Carolina. Internet and community. “We must engage in the structures of the present, as well as the iniquities of the past, as we think fit for the future.”

Cruise has a comprehensive manual and video guide for first responders who should call 1-888-662-7103 when problems arise. Waymo has similar documents and call number. Both said they would conduct exercises for first responders.

But for officials who have not read Cruise’s 24-page document or watched its 19-minute video, there is no clear way for its cars – perhaps a card printed on the dashboard? – Instructing those outside of them on how to reach a man.

Wendy Zhou, a professor of information science at the Jacobs Technian-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech in New York and an expert in robot-vehicle communications, said the car and / or how it interacts with its human back-up team should be very clear. . He has worked as a consultant for Cruz.

“Police don’t have to punch around to find it,” he said.

Waymo, who has been based in Phoenix for many years, said it has a strong driverless robot-taxi fleet and has developed its contacts with first responders over time.

The Waymo spokesman Nicholas Smith said in an email that the remote monitoring team “will be notified if a vehicle is stopped by police and will immediately roll over the windows and communicate with the officer through the car’s audio system.”

Cruz described the incident in more detail in response to questions from The Chronicle.

All of its cars can recognize emergency vehicles by their lights and sirens. At this point, its car detected the car’s headlights and stopped in its tracks. Remote cruise operators were told to pull it off, “at that point, the AV had identified a safe pullover spot nearby across the intersection,” the company said.

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