San Francisco – Uber took its self-driving test cars off the road as a precaution after one of the vehicles was involved in an accident. The collision was not the fault of the ride-hailing company's car, but of the driver of the other car who failed to yield the right of way, a spokeswoman for the police in Tempe, Arizona, told the financial service Bloomberg over the weekend. No one had been seriously injured. Uber did not initially provide details on whether the car was being driven by software or by a human at the wheel at the time of the accident.
The impact must have had some force: TV station ABC, among others, published photos showing a converted car with Uber's robot car sensors on its roof lying on its side. One passenger was not on board, according to the company. Uber is also transporting passengers on a test basis with the cars, which are on the road in Pittsburgh and Arizona. The head of Uber's robot car development, Anthony Levandowski, had said in late February that about a dozen of the company's self-driving cars were on the road.
Trouble again and again
Uber is giving traditional cab companies massive competition by offering its customers rides through a smartphone app. Most recently, there had been repeated trouble surrounding the company. As a result, tens of thousands of users turned away from the provider in protest against Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, who was appointed to U.S. President Donald Trump's economic advisory group. Kalanick subsequently left the panel. The Uber boss is also currently having allegations of sexual harassment at his company investigated. Working conditions for drivers have also come under criticism.
Several controversies had also recently erupted around Uber's robot car program. The cars are running in Arizona in the first place because California kicked them out. Because Levandowski launched test drives in Uber's hometown of San Francisco in December without applying for a self-driving vehicle permit like those held by more than two dozen companies, including established automakers, suppliers or Google sister company Waymo. After Uber refused to apply for such a license, California canceled the cars' license plates. Uber had to relocate to Arizona. Meanwhile, the vehicle broker backed down. Obtained California permit.
While still driving in San Francisco, one of the Uber cars crossed a pedestrian intersection on red. Uber was talking about human error at the time and it created the impression that a human was driving the car at that moment. Later, the "New York Times" however, citing internal documents, that the software failed to detect the red light and that the human error was not intervening quickly enough.
Accidents with self-driving cars had also happened, for example, to Google and the company Waymo, in which the Internet giant has now bundled the development. But in most cases, humans had rear-ended the carefully driving robotic cars. Only once did a Google car take the right of way of a bus at low speed and there was a fender bender.
Uber is also under pressure over a lawsuit filed by Waymo alleging that the vehicle broker's cars are using stolen technology from Google's robot cars. Levandowski – one of Google's longtime lead tech developers – had downloaded files containing trade secrets when he left the Internet company, it is said. This, he said, included the laser radar technology that the cars use to scan their surroundings. Uber technology has similarities to Google car systems, Waymo claims. Uber dismissed the lawsuit as an attempt to thwart a competitor. Levandowski had been in charge of developing the laser radars at Google.