Uber employees reveal that Uber’s self-driving cars neglected six red traffic lights in a busy San Francisco streets that could have led to accidents.
The New York Times reports that new information has come to light regarding the self-driving Uber car that sped through six red traffic lights during a test drive on the streets of San Francisco in December last year, which could enormously set back Uber’s self-driving aspirations.
Before 2016 ended, Uber took flak for a self-driving Uber Volvo that was running red lights on the streets of San Francisco. First reported by the San Francisco Examiner, the self-driving Uber car that was on the road for a self-driving experimental run was caught on the dashboard cam of a taxi driving past a red traffic light.
According to an Uber statement at that time provided by Tech Crunch, the incident was “due to human error” and not the self-driving program per se. In fact, they have used the incident, which they claimed to be the fault of the driver overseeing the experimental self-drive test, the reason why Uber is exerting so much money and effort into developing completely autonomous cars.
“This incident was due to human error. This is why we believe so much in making the roads safer by building self-driving Ubers. This vehicle was not part of the pilot and was not carrying customers. The driver involved has been suspended while we continue to investigate.”
It should be noted, too, that Uber did not seek from the Department of Motor Vehicles a permit to test its self-driving vehicles on California roads due to their reasoning that a human driver sat behind the wheel the whole time the experiment was conducted, so as to prevent road mishaps from happening (which makes us wonder why the car ran through the red light in the first place).
The New York Times, however, did some digging, and found internal Uber documents, corroborated by two unnamed Uber employees, “who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they signed nondisclosure agreements with the company,” that it was not merely human error that caused the said incident. In fact, it was the self-driving system malfunctioning altogether.
The report reveals that the car was driving itself, not the human driver:
“…the mapping programs used by Uber’s cars failed to recognize six traffic lights in the San Francisco area. ‘In this case, the car went through a red light,’ the documents said.”
This new information reveals that the self-driving Uber car, which ran through six red lights without the authorization of the DMV, has put to harm civilians and drivers on the roads. This alone could set back Uber’s aggressive efforts to put self-driving Uber cars on the roads—an initiative that Uber launched in Pittsburgh in September last year.
In fact, it is not only this self-driving mishap that’s going to affect Uber’s self-driving advocacies, going forward. Anthony Levandowski, VP of Uber’s advanced technologies group and owner of now Uber-owned Otto (a company that ventures into self-driving cars), is being sued by Alphabet-owned company Waymo for stealing self-driving technology trade secrets.
The Guardian reports that Levandowski, a former Waymo employee, “downloaded 9.7 GBs of sensitive, secret, and valuable internal Waymo information from the company’s secure design server before leaving the company,” including specifications for Waymo’s proprietary LiDAR system, which functions as the “eyes” of self-driving cars.
Uber, however, is treating the lawsuit as a baseless attempt to slow them down and The New York Times writes as follows.
“…in an internal email to Uber employees obtained by The New York Times, Mr. Levandowski said that Otto did not steal any of Google’s intellectual property, and that self-driving technology has been his life’s passion, having worked on it since his college days. He alluded to sharing more information with employees when he could in the future.”
Will Uber’s self-driving efforts gets stalled by these incidents and allegation or will they continue expanding their self-driving fleet towards more US states?
[Featured Image by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images]