Uber's Self-Driving Car Kills

Automakers have been striving to become the first market player to launch autonomous car and get first-mover’s advantage. They have been testing their vehicles and technology on public roads. Though some experts and researchers outlined the technology has been launched in haste, automakers have ignored them and continued anyway. The latest incident with Uber raises question on whether autonomous cars are ready to be rolled out on public roads. A self-driving car from Uber killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. The local police department has been investigating the incident. Uber has been cooperating with them. The entire details of the incident are not out yet, but it is revealed that the car also had a human driver behind the wheel as a backup. It is not yet clear how the accident occurred despite a driver being behind the wheel. After the incident, the ride-hailing service firm halted all the trials of its self-driving vehicles in cities including San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Phoenix, and Toronto.

Major auto manufacturers and startups have been testing their autonomous vehicles on public roads. The governments are also supporting them as they see potential in the technology to avoid many accidents in the future. Though the government sees potential in the technology, many researchers and experts believe that automakers have been rushing to deploy the technology. Many auto manufacturers have touted that their technology is ready for deployment in large scale, but this incident raises question on whether it is ready, or they are rushing to gain first-mover’s advantage.

Bryan Reimer, a research scientist at MIT who studies automated driving, said, “Until we understand the testing and deployment of these systems further, we need to take our time and work through the evolution of the technology.”

Ryan Calo, a researcher studying the legalities involved in vehicle autonomy at the University of Washington, outlined that even if the pedestrian is found partly responsible in the Uber incident, the company will also be held liable. The company would be inclined to settle the case to prevent a test case. Calo also highlighted the importance of taking legal and ethical implications into consideration before development of AI systems. Commenting on the Arizona incident, he opined that either sensors of the car did not detect the woman or algorithms failed to understand what it was seeing.

Regulators will investigate the incident thoroughly and inspect the technology deployed in the car. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) have launched probes. Along with technology, this incident raises questions on safety drivers’ ability to monitor the system efficiently. Moreover, few research studies showed that there was a difficulty in forming a connection between autonomous systems and pedestrians.

According to the steps automakers had taken, it seemed that there was a lot of progress in autonomous technology and governments needed to loosen the legal restrictions. Waymo, Uber, and other automakers urged legislators to pass a bill that would open the doors for self-driving cars in the country. This incident might lower the pace of passage of the bill. Though there have been accidents of self-driving cars in the past, such as Tesla Model S in Florida, regulators did not push a stop button on testing or implement stricter regulations. The results of investigations and probes will decide how the future of self-driving cars will be shaped.


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