Turbotodd

Ruminations on tech, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Uber’s Loss of Autonomy

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The Verge is reporting that Arizona has suspended Uber’s testing of autonomous vehicles following last week’s fatal crash in the city of Tempe.

That accident occurred at night and coincided with autonomous test driver Rafaela Vasquez looking down just prior to the moment of impact, leaving pedestrian 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg dead.

The Verge reports this was likely the first death caused by a self-driving vehicle, and the aftermath has been “severe” for Uber. The company voluntarily suspended self-driving operations in the state amid an NTSB investigation, and is currently under investigation by the Tempe Police Department.

In his formal letter to Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi (dated yesterday, March 26, 2018), Arizona governor Doug Ducey, a Republic who had initially been quite welcoming of Uber’s using Arizona public roads as its autonomous vehicle proving grounds, wrote the following:

As governor, my top priority is public safety. Improving public safety has always been the emphasis of Arizona’s approach to autonomous vehicle testing, and my expectation is that public safety is also the top priority for all who operate this technology in the state of Arizona.

The incident that took place on March 18 is an unquestionable failure to comply with this expectation. While the incident is currently under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Arizona must take action now. In the best interest of the people of my state, I have directed the Arizona Department of Transportation to suspend Uber’s ability to test and operate autonomous vehicles on Arizona’s public roadways.

The Verge reminds us that Uber had been testing self-driving cars in Arizona since late 2016, thanks to Arizona’s loose regulatory stance on the technology.

So what does this portend for the future of autonomous vehicles? The future of Uber’s self-driving program?

Their cause certainly wasn’t assisted by a report from The New York Times last week that Uber had been struggling to meet a target of just 13 miles per “intervention” in Arizona, compared to Waymo’s 5,600 miles. 

And the Time’s report suggested Uber was cutting other corners, so to speak, putting more of its test drivers out on solo runs as opposed to working in pairs.

Uber has since halted autonomous car tests in Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Toronto as well, and the Time’s indicated “it is not clear when the company will revive them.”

How about when they can prove they can stop running over pedestrians?

Written by turbotodd

March 27, 2018 at 10:08 am

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