Uber is canceling its self-driving car program after one of its vehicles was involved in an accident in Tempe, Arizona. On Friday, an Uber autonomous Volvo SUV flipped on its side when it collided with a human-driven car.
Local authorities are investigating the accident, but have already determined Uber’s self-driving car is not at fault. The driver of the other vehicle did not yield to Uber’s car, causing the collision. No one was hurt, but the self-driving car was badly damaged.
— CleanTechnica (@cleantechnica) March 26, 2017
A company spokesperson admitted the SUV was in “self-driving mode,” yet there was a driver behind the wheel when the accident occurred. Neither Uber, nor the police has said if the person was in control of the vehicle at the moment of impact.
In February, Uber rolled out the self-driving car program, known as UberX, in Arizona. Doug Ducey, the Grand Canyon state’s governor, was the first to try the service.
“Arizona welcomes Uber self-driving cars with open arms and wide open roads,” said Ducey at the time, as cited by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “While California puts the brakes on innovation and change with more bureaucracy and more regulation, Arizona is paving the way for new technology and new businesses.”
The testing of Uber’s self-driving cars began in Arizona after the California Department of Motor Vehicles banned them in December. Initially, the ride-hailing company was denied the proper authorization to test the autonomous vehicles on California roads. However, the company moved forward anyway despite the state’s threat of legal action.
The same day Uber began accepting passengers in San Francisco, one self-driving car was caught running a red light. As a result, California demanded the company cease operating autonomous cars in the state. Even though the company blamed human error on the incident, a later investigation discovered the vehicle did not acknowledge the light was red. After months of negotiating, Uber decided it was in their best interest to move the program to a different state.
At the same time Uber was testing driverless cars in California, it was also experimenting with the program in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At first, the city’s mayor, Bill Peduto, extended a jubilant welcome to Uber, saying the ride-hailing company will bring much-needed jobs to Pittsburgh.
However, Peduto soon became disgruntled with the company after finding out Uber reduced ride service fees in New York below taxi cab companies, putting them at a significant pricing disadvantage. The self-driving car accident in Arizona has prompted Uber to halt the self-directed vehicle program in Pittsburgh as well.
The accident in Arizona involving an Uber self-driving car is just the latest crisis to hit the company. A former Uber engineer, Susan Fowler, claimed she suffered over a year of sexual harassment from fellow employees. Shortly thereafter, other female employees came forward with more claims of sexual harassment within the company. During a recent press call, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick committed to changing “the current state of Uber’s culture” and working on a complete transformation of the ride-hailing company.
Other internal problems and technology flaws have caused setbacks in the autonomous program. Late last year, nearly 20 engineers up and quit the company, including the program’s director, Raffi Krikorian. Also, recently released documents from Recode show the driverless cars need the assistance of a human at least once every mile in order to maintain safe operation.
Uber doesn’t have an ethics committee and won't say who will be liable when a self-driving car is in an accident … pic.twitter.com/K0Szkap9O0
— The Source (@SourceConstruct) September 15, 2016
The self-driving car accident in Arizona casts even more doubt on the success of autonomous driving technology. Yet, despite the current suspension of the program, Uber is likely to continue aggressively pursuing and investing in the idea.
Uber began secretly working on self-driving cars in early 2015. The company firmly believes driverless cars are the future of its ride-hailing services. Without drivers, the company predicts a combination of cost savings and fewer employee issues will provide a long-term advantage over competitors.
Google is close on the heels of Uber with their own driverless car but has yet to risk the safety of ordinary passengers. Once the technology is perfected by either company, expect to see self-driving cars mostly in urban areas where they are more useful and cost-effective.
[Featured Image by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images]