Uber hits the brakes on self-driving car tests after a crash

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What does a company dealing with controversy want most? Not more problems, that is for sure.

Unfortunately, that is exactly what Uber just got, after one of its self-driving cars was involved in a crash. But what happened, and what does this mean for the company's longterm plans?

In IT Blogwatch, we find out what Uber has in common with Herbie.

So what is going on? Marisa Kendell has some background:

Uber is pulling its self-driving cars from the road following a...crash involving one of its vehicles in Tempe, Arizona on Friday.
Cars in Pittsburgh and San Francisco were out of service Saturday and Sunday...the company...had no set date for their return. Uber immediately stopped its self-driving car program in Arizona after the crash...its fleet there [will] remain off the roads while the company continues its investigation into the accident.

A crash? What happened? Abhimanyu Ghoshal has the details:

One of Uber’s self-driving Volvo SUVs was found on its side after it collided with another vehicle while in autonomous mode...the company’s car wasn’t at fault; a second car failed to yield for the Uber and caused it to flip over...there were no serious injuries and that the SUV didn’t have any backseat passengers.

How was Uber's self-driving car tests going up to this point? Michael D. Regan fills us in:

Uber said when the program rolled out that the self-driving vehicles would need humans at the wheel in many cases, such as in bad weather...A report released in March indicated that while Uber’s self-driving vehicles are increasing the number of miles driven autonomously, they are falling below the company’s expectations.

And we have been hearing a lot about Uber lately. What exactly has been going on with the company? Carl Velasco in is the know:

It isn't going well for Uber's self-driving front...recently, Otto, an Uber unit, was challenged by Waymo, Google's...self-driving division...for allegedly stealing designs and blueprints for its self-driving technology.

Unfortunately for Uber, that's not all. Mark Bergen and Eric Newcomer have more to share:

The incident also comes as Uber, and Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick, are...under scrutiny because of a series of scandals. The...company has been accused of operating a sexist workplace...the New York Times reported that Uber used a tool called Greyball to help drivers evade government regulators and enforcement officials [and] Kalanick said he needed "leadership help" after Bloomberg published a video showing him arguing with an Uber driver.

Doesn't sound great for uber. But all that aside, how important is this program for Uber? Adreinne LaFrance has that info:

The incident is a reminder of...how much Uber has riding on the success of self-driving cars.
If self-driving cars are adopted on a mass scale and Uber isn’t leading the way, its current business -- which revolves around humans driving cars -- is made obsolete. But if Uber finds a way to dominate...the development of self-driving cars, it can remove those costly human drivers from its business model -- a scenario that could mean a windfall for Uber.

Then what does pausing the program mean for Uber's business plans going forward? Alison Griswold has an interesting take:

But the health of Uber’s autonomous vehicle program is unclear. At least 20 engineers have quit since November...and...documents [show] that Uber’s self-driving cars currently need to be handled by their human safety drivers roughly once every 0.8 miles.
The accident in Tempe is another black mark on that program...While Uber has said safety is a priority in its driverless testing, that’s been tough to square with the company’s hasty debuts and tendency to equivocate when questioned...also...Bloomberg reported earlier this month that a running joke at Otto was “safety third.”

So is there a bright side to the crash? Brother Hermes thinks Uber needs to learn some new tricks:

Well in it's defense, it worked when Herbie the Love Bug did it to squeeze through a tight spot. They'll learn over time.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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