Tech journalist says ride in driverless car turned into nightmare

Tech journalist says ride in San Francisco driverless car called Peaches turned into dystopian nightmare when vehicle began to speed up and refused to let him out

  • Associated Press tech reporter Michael Liedtke used the driverless service last year but was left unimpressed 
  • The vehicle he had been riding in had ‘gotten confused’ while on route to his destination and ended up having to walk part of the way 
  • The company behind the vehicle, Cruise, is currently battling with the City of San Francisco to roll out more vehicles on the streets and charge customers 

A tech journalist has said a ride in a driverless car named ‘Peaches’ turned into a dystopic nightmare after the vehicle gained speed and refused to let him out. 

Associated Press tech reporter Michael Liedtke had been picked up by the driverless Chevrolet Bolt, called Peaches, outside of a San Francisco bar last September.

Liedtke said the half-hour journey, operated by company Cruise, was going smoothly until a ‘twist’ made him worry the experience would be something that he’d regret.

In a report, Liedtke said that as he approached his destination Peaches began accelerating and driving away in the opposite direction.

After frantically calling the Cruise support center, they informed him that Peaches had become confused and after the car took him back to the destination, it did the same thing. 

Associated Press tech reporter Michael Liedtke is pictured here inside Peaches last September 

The empty driver’s seat is shown in a driverless Chevy Bolt car named Peaches carrying Associated Press reporter Michael Liedtke

In a report on the journey, Liedtke wrote: ‘The concept does sound good. And the technology to pull it off is advancing steadily.

‘But when something goes awry, as it did near the end of my encounter with  Peaches, that sense of astonishment and delight can evaporate very quickly.

‘As we approached my designated drop-off location near the Fairmont Hotel, Peaches advised me to gather my belongings and prepare to get out of the car.

As Liedtke grabbed his bag, he said it ‘suddenly sped up and inexplicably started driving away in the opposite direction.’

After seeing the dashboard display screen indicating that he was somehow ’20 minutes from his destination’ he said that he began to grow ‘frantic.’

He said that he ‘asked Peaches what was going on’ to no avail.

‘I used a feature on Cruise’s ride-hailing center that enables a passenger to contact a person at a call center.

‘The Cruise representative confirmed that Peaches had gotten confused, apologized and assured me the robotaxi had been reprogrammed to get me to my original destination.

‘Then it started doing the old same thing again, making me wonder whether Peaches might like me a little too much to let me go.’

A Cruise vehicle in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Wednesday Feb. 2, 2022

Cruise, which is a driverless robot taxi, is seen during operation in San Francisco, California, USA on July 24, 2023.

After the chaotic trip, Liedtke said that he contacted the Cruise’s call center to report the malfunction.

‘Suddenly, Peaches came to a halt right in the middle of the street,’ he added saying he bolted from the vehicle several blocks from his destination shortly before 10 pm.

The new self-driving cars have become common in San Francisco, and have collided with at least two pets since being rolled out. 

The Wall Street Journal reported that first responders say they get in the way, and pedestrians fill social media with reports of the cars’ antics.

The companies who run the vehicles, Cruise and Waymo, now want to offer a ride-hailing business that can compete with Uber and Lyft. 

If the companies get their wishes, the city will become ground zero for one of the first big urban experiments in transportation using autonomous vehicles. 

A vote is expected to take place later this month whether to allow Cruise to expand their presence in the city, and to allow Waymo to charge for rides at all times. 

Jeffrey Tumlin, director of transportation for San Francisco’s transit authority told the WSJ: ‘We think that autonomous vehicles are amazing and we believe that someday they will be safer than human drivers.

‘So far, the industry has not demonstrated that.’ 

Cruise Chief Executive Kyle Vogt said in an interview that officials would cause more people to be harmed if they slowed the rollout of self-driving cars, citing company data that linked their increased presence to reduced collisions.

Both companies currently have waiting lists to get on the apps, with Cruise offering paid night rides and people can currently use Waymo without charge.  

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