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Investigation Shows Uber’s Self-Driving Vehicle System Was Far Behind Competitors Before Fatal Crash

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An investigation by the New York Times has found that Uber’s self-driving vehicle project was far behind the competition, having problems with things like maneuvering through construction or driving next to tall vehicles, before one struck and killed a woman in Arizona.

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This study is based on documents acquired by the Times from Uber’s self-driving division, which showed that Uber was having trouble meeting a goal of 13 miles driven autonomously per driver intervention. For contrast, Waymo reported to California last year that its cars went a little under 5,600 miles per driver intervention.

So, if Uber’s self-driving vehicles were so far behind, then why were they being tested like the competitions’ were in the first place?

Likely, it is due to a corporate version of Keeping Up With the Joneses. Uber has long considered self-driving vehicles to be its end-game in its ride-hailing business, saving all of the money it has been paying to its drivers. So, in order to impress executives and shareholders, it seems Uber may have been pushing its self-driving vehicles to greater feats for which they weren’t ready.

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One of these feats was apparently using only one safety driver during testing, as the norm in the industry seems to be a pair of drivers—one prepared to take over for safety, and the other assessing data from the vehicle systems on a laptop. Uber switched to a single-operator system, offering more training when some drivers protested that hours of solo monotonous driving would make staying alert far more difficult.

This is likely to be pointed out by self-driving vehicle manufacturers as questions on the safety of autonomous vehicles grow. Uber’s self-driving fleet remains off the roads.

News Sources: The New York Times, Jalopnik