In August 2016, WIRED visited the San Francisco offices of a young startup that was recently acquired by a surprise buyer. General Motors acquired three-year-old Cruise for a reported $1 billion, hoping the Detroit automaker could adopt self-driving technology that could disrupt the auto industry. Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt – a scruffy Twitch co-founder who joined as a teenager BattleBots– said he planned to stay but continue to run the self-driving car technology developer as a startup. He predicted that if he couldn’t hack the self-driving thing within ten to fifteen years, he would be out of a job.
Is Vogt’s time up? GM’s financial reports show it has lost $8.2 billion on Cruise since the start of 2017, and this year the company has poured at least $1.9 billion into the company. But last month, California regulators revoked permits to operate self-driving vehicles in San Francisco, amid allegations that the company failed to disclose key details about a serious collision that left a pedestrian trapped beneath a robo-taxi. A few days later, the company said it would pause driverless operations in the US, in cities including Austin, Texas and Phoenix, Arizona.
This week, new details were revealed about the technology’s shortcomings during the October 2 San Francisco collision. That night, a pedestrian was struck by a human-powered car and thrown into the path of a self-driving cruise vehicle that swerved but still hit the woman. Cruise said Wednesday that the car’s software then “inaccurately characterized” the collision as a side impact, not a frontal impact, and so automatically tried to pull out of traffic, a maneuver that dragged her six meters along the ground. Cruise recalled all 950 self-driving vehicles in its fleet, acknowledged that their software poses a safety risk, and said it will not resume driverless operations until it is updated. (The person behind the wheel of the car that initially hit the woman has not been caught.)
GM now appears to have decided to tighten the line for Cruise. If Forbes First reported on Wednesday, there have been layoffs. In an all-employee meeting Monday focused on Cruise’s response to California’s problems, CEO Vogt told employees that a timeline for job cuts would come in the coming weeks. The company today began laying off contract workers in cleaning, loading and maintenance positions. GM also said this week it would temporarily halt production of the Origin, a purpose-built robotaxi vehicle that Cruise had been testing in San Francisco and Austin.
“We believe strongly in Cruise’s mission and the transformative technology it is developing,” GM spokesperson Aimee Ridella said in a statement. “Safety must be our top priority, and we fully support the actions Cruise’s leadership is taking to ensure it puts safety first and builds trust and credibility.”
Cruise’s initial response to the crash in October suggested it was a freak incident, one that was unavoidable even for a human driver. The car “responded to the person deviating from its path within 460 milliseconds, faster than most human drivers, and braked aggressively to minimize the impact,” the company said. This week’s recall and Cruise’s other recent actions appear to show that the company has admitted the possibility. of systemic flaws in its strategy, technology and communications with a nervous public.
Cruise said in a blog post on Wednesday that it would increase transparency and that it had hired a law firm to review the October crash and an independent engineering firm to review all its safety and engineering processes. “As we build a better Cruise, we are evaluating a variety of possible actions to ensure we operate to the highest standards of safety, transparency and accountability,” Cruise spokesperson Navideh Forghani wrote in a statement.
And while the fallout from the San Francisco collision has led to Cruise’s latest troubles, it’s becoming clear that the robotaxi operator also faced pushback from other cities. Documents obtained by WIRED through a public records request from the city of Austin show that in the months before it suspended driverless operations late last month, the company had also received complaints from the city’s fire, police and emergency services city. as residents – similar to the criticism of their counterparts in San Francisco.