Uber’s self-driving cars: The beginning and suspension of their ambitious project

By Raunak Haldipur 

Self-driving cars are not a new concept anymore. Google has been testing their self-driving cars for a long time now, and they have proven to be quite effective, with very low errors and accidents. When the accidents were diagnosed, it was found that they were caused due to some kind of human intervention. It is not long before self-driving cars are seen on the roads.

Now, Apple and Tesla are also testing self-driving cars. In 2016, Uber announced that they too are testing their automated self-driving cars. Uber is a large employment provider and if they introduce self-driving cars, then it will render a lot of people jobless.

Cities covered by Uber’s self-driving cars

In 2016, Uber started testing their self-driving cars in Pittsburgh on Hybrid Ford Fusion cars. Uber believes that self-driven cars are the future and that it has the potential of saving millions of lives every year. While the car will be roaming around Pittsburgh, there will be an experienced driver who will be in the car at all times to monitor the vehicle’s performance. In early 2017, Uber expanded its driverless car testing to Arizona. The Arizona pilot comes after California’s Department of Motor Vehicles revoked the registration of Uber’s 16 self-driving cars because the company refused to apply for the appropriate permits for testing autonomous cars. Residents of Tempe, Arizona, could hail a self-driving Volvo XC90 SUV on Uber’s ride-sharing platform. All trips would include two Uber engineers in the front seats to ensure safety, in any event where a human needs to take over control of the vehicle’s software.

Suspension of the program

In March 2017, Uber had to suspend their pilot after an accident involving their self-driving car in Arizona. The cab aggregator said it was grounding driverless cars involved in a pilot program in Arizona, Pittsburgh and San Francisco pending the outcome of an investigation into the crash. The accident occurred when the driver of a second vehicle failed to yield to the Uber vehicle while making a turn, said Josie Montenegro, a spokeswoman for the Tempe Police Department. The vehicles collided, causing Uber’s vehicle to roll onto its side. However, there were no serious injuries. “Two safety drivers were in the front seats of the Uber car, which was in self-driving mode at the time of the crash”, Uber said in an email, a standard requirement for its self-driving vehicles. The back seat was empty and no passengers were harmed. Documents show that Uber’s autonomous cars drove over 20,000 miles, but had to be taken over by trained drivers in the car at every mile.

Lessons learned

One smart move that Uber made was using Volvo cars in the pilot, as Volvo has the reputation of making the safest cars in the world. This way, in case of any accidents, the chance of the passengers getting hurt would be minimal. Another positive was that Uber focused on having trained drivers who were in the car so that accidents could be averted if the need arose. This shows that the company has a long way to go before they can roll out their self-driving cars for the public to use.

Featured Image Source: Flickr