SAN FRANCISCO - Friday night was another moment in the man vs. machine discourse.
Just the day after mass expansion was approved in San Francisco for rival tech companies Waymo and Cruise to operate around-the-clock for their services, a gridlock was caused in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood Friday night. However, it seems (intentional) "human error" was more to blame than technology.
Many lamented about the expansion citing mainly safety concerns and obstructions caused by the driverless taxis, and many certainly felt vindicated after Friday's incident. However, Cruise confirmed with KTVU the jam was caused by a pedestrian who intentionally disrupted a Cruise car and not a connectivity issue to a network.
Initially, Cruise said connectivity issues from a "large event" presumed to be the Outside Lands music festival caused at least 10 cars to become immobilized, but clarified that instead, a pedestrian interfered with one of the cars, and that the car stopped as it awaited further instructions from a remote advisor.
As the first car stopped, more pedestrians came into contact with the "lead car" which delayed "overall resolution time" further. Other Cruise cars picking up or dropping off riders queued up behind the lead car.
It took around 15 minutes for the autonomous vehicles to continue driving their routes as usual.
Cruise clarified that "limited bandwidth issues" created a lag in their remote advisors' ability to "provide expedient guidance" to several cars.
Many Cruise riders Friday night were festival goers, which created a "higher concentration of [Cruise vehicles] in a congested area." Because of higher-than-normal congestion levels, remote assistance was provided to help navigate.
"Congestion from massive crowds of this size can and did impact our AVs’ ability to maneuver in areas close to Golden Gate Park," Cruise's statement read. "Normally, our remote advisors might have been able to more quickly move our vehicles, but the above data lag combined with enormous pedestrian crowds resulted in several of our cars being moved by our field support teams."
"Last weekend Cruise successfully transported thousands of concert-goers, amidst widespread reports of traffic congestion, contributing to a very small portion of traffic blockages overall on Friday night. We addressed these issues and did not see any recurrence throughout the Saturday or Sunday concert days. We’re in communication with regulators about this event and how we plan to continue improving our operations serving riders seeking safe, driverless transportation to and from large events," said Cruise spokesperson Hannah Lindow.
Should network issues arise, Cruise cars will attempt to safely pull aside and off the road and can still operate autonomously without support remote advisors' support. Cruise said additional steps are in place for redundancy to prevent loss of connectivity.
San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin said in light of the update, that Cruise's "remote assistants" couldn't communicate with their cars in a timely fashion.
"Cruise were the ones who said it was a connectivity issue on Saturday. Regardless of how they got disabled the bottom line which they freely admitted is that their Remote Assistants couldn’t communicate with the vehicles in a timely fashion to move them remotely," Peskin told KTVU in a comment.
O. Gloria is a digital reporter KTVU. Email O. Gloria at email@example.com or call her at 510-874-0175. Follow her on Twitter at @ogloriaokorie.