In the ongoing investigation following the recent Tempe, Arizona car accident involving an Uber self-driving vehicle and a pedestrian who unfortunately lost her life, most of the focus has been on that singular instance and what might have happened to cause the car to crash into the victim while traveling on automonous with a safety driver on board. When investigators realized that the vehicle should have been able to detect the pedestrian with the level of infrared technology the vehicle had, the investigation turned inward.
Now The New York Times is reporting that Uber’s self-driving vehicles were failing to live up to the company’s expectations months before the crash. According to the investigation, Uber’s self-driving cars were struggling to drive through construction areas on roads and highways as well as near tall vehicles like commercial trucks. Uber’s human safety drivers had to intervene far more often than the drivers of other self-driving vehicles currently being tested that were placed on the roads by other automonous vehicle competitors like Waymo.
The Times obtained 100 pages of Uber’s vehicle testing documents stating that, on average, Uber’s self-driving cars struggled to travel 13 miles independently before a human had to intervene or take over driving. According to Waymo, the company that heads Google’s former self-driving car project, their vehicles were able to travel up to an average of 5,600 miles before human intervention became required. These vehicle tests happened in California last year.
Also according to the documents, Uber employees were feeling the pressure to perfect their self-driving cars before April of this year, when Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s Chief Executive, was expected to visit the Arizona development center and receive a “glitch-free” ride in an autonomous vehicle. As a result, Uber’s test drivers were being asked to perform more solo test drives when they had previously worked in pairs.
Technology companies like Uber, Waymo, and Lyft as well as automakers like General Motors and Toyota have funneled billions of dollars into developing and perfecting self-driving cars. Most believe that the market will one day explode and be worth trillions– if not more. The recent crash in Tempe is a sign that the Uber’s self-driving cars, at least, need more time in the development room before they’re deemed safe.
Uber has halted autonomous vehicle testing in all four testing areas. It’s unclear at this point as to when testing will resume.