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Cruise co-founders resign, company says it’s rethinking safety

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Despite the resignation of Cruise’s co-founders, parent company General Motors reportedly isn’t concerned about the near future of the autonomous vehicle (AV) robotaxi company.

Former Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt didn’t give a reason for leaving Cruise but some have wondered if it’s related to the pause in California operations amid safety concerns following an August collision between a Cruise robotaxi and a firetruck in San Francisco as well as a pedestrian-involved incident in October.

Cruise co-founder and Chief Product Officer Daniel Kan resigned one day after Vogt. A Cruise spokesperson told CNBC Kan announced his resignation in a Slack message, and the company nor Kan offered any other details.

According to audio of a call between Cruise and GM executives that was obtained by Forbes, GM CEO and Board Chair Mary Barra said, “This is an opportunity to start our rebuilding. And I think first and most important, I want you to know that you have my support and GM’s full support.”

Other top executives and a Cruise board member praised Cruise’s staff and mission, seemingly expressing no doubts about the company moving forward, according to Forbes.

In a live-streamed meeting held Monday, GM executives, including Barra, said little to ease employee concerns and didn’t answer several questions posed by workers concerning Cruise’s future or about a controversial plan to halt a share resale program, Reuters reports.

In his message to employees, Kan said Cruise had been providing 10,000 rides a week adding, “I know Cruise will achieve that again soon.”

Barra has since promoted Cruise Executive Vice President of Engineering Mo Elshenawy to president and chief technology officer and appointed GM board member Jon McNeill vice chairman of the Cruise board, according to TechCrunch.

Vogt shared news of his resignation via X on Nov. 19. He wrote, “To my former colleagues at Cruise and GM — you’ve got this! Regardless of what originally brought you to work on AVs, remember why this work matters. The status quo on our roads sucks but together we’ve proven there is something far better around the corner.”

He added that he plans to spend time with family and explore new ideas.

“The last 10 years have been amazing, and I’m grateful to everyone who helped Cruise along the way,” Vogt wrote. “The startup I launched in my garage has given over 250,000 driverless rides across several cities, with each ride inspiring people with a small taste of the future.

“Cruise is still just getting started, and I believe it has a great future ahead. The folks at Cruise are brilliant, driven, and resilient. They’re executing on a solid, multi-year roadmap and an exciting product vision. I’m thrilled to see what Cruise has in store next!”

Prior to the resignations, on Nov. 14, Cruise shared on its blog that its board had taken “further steps to enhance safety and transparency as we work to build a better Cruise.”

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Office of Defects Investigation had already been investigating what led to the August crash.

On Oct. 2, a pedestrian entered a crosswalk against an intersection red light across the street from a Cruise AV, passing through its travel lane, according to Cruise. The pedestrian then stopped in front of a Nissan Sentra traveling in the lane to the left of the AV and was struck, sending the person in front of the AV.

“The AV biased rightward before braking aggressively but still made contact with the pedestrian,” Cruise wrote. “The AV detected a collision, bringing the vehicle to a stop; then attempted to pull over to avoid causing further road safety issues, pulling the individual forward approximately 20 feet. The driver of the Nissan Sentra fled the scene after the collision.”

The state DMV suspended Cruise’s deployment and driverless testing permits in October claiming the company had “misrepresented” information related to the safety of its vehicles.

Cruise said last week as part of its new safety improvement efforts it had named Craig Glidden as chief administrative officer. Glidden took on the role in addition to serving as GM’s executive vice president of legal and policy.

Cruise’s legal and policy, communications, and finance teams now report directly to Glidden. In his new position, it was planned for him to work closely with Vogt and the Cruise senior leadership team.

“Cruise will benefit from leveraging Craig and GM’s experience and best practices when it comes to transparency and engagement around safety,” the Nov. 14 blog post states.

Cruise shared at that time that it would hire a permanent chief safety officer to report to Vogt and that the company’s board would hire a third-party safety expert to perform a full assessment of Cruise’s safety operations and culture.

“These independent findings will help further guide and inform the work we have initiated,” Cruise wrote.

Cruise hasn’t shared an update on the administrative changes since last week.

Cruise said it previously hired Exponent, an independent and third-party engineering consulting firm, to conduct a technical root cause analysis of the Oct. 2 incident, and are working with the law firm Quinn Emanuel “to examine and better understand Cruise’s response, including our interactions with law enforcement, regulators, and the media.”

“That work is ongoing, and the Board plans to expand Exponent’s remit to include a comprehensive review of our safety systems and technology,” Cruise wrote last week.

In early November, a voluntary software recall was issued to address why the Cruise Collision Detection Subsystem may cause the AVs to attempt to pull over out of traffic instead of remaining stationary when a pullover is not the desired post-collision response.

In January, FBI Director Christopher Wray cautioned how AVs could be misused during The World Economic Forum’s discussion on technology and national security in Davos, Switzerland.

“When you talk about autonomous vehicles, it’s obviously something that we’re excited about, just like everybody,” Wray said. “But there are harms that we have to guard against that are more than just the obvious. One of them is the danger that there could be ways to confuse or distort the algorithms to cause physical harm.”

In addition, the FBI is concerned about the enormous amount of data that AVs, and EVs, collect, Wray added.

“Any time you aggregate lots and lots of sensitive data, it makes a very tempting target,” he said.


Featured image: A Cruise self-driving autonomous car drives along Jackson Street in downtown San Francisco on July 24, 2023. (Credit: JasonDoiy/iStock)

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