The recent accident of Uber’s self-driving vehicle during testing in Arizona has caused an uproar across the world. A 49-year-old woman was killed as technology failed to detect an obstacle in the way. This was the first incident in which someone among citizens was killed during testing on public roads. Uber reached a settlement agreement with the family of the deceased woman. However, many raised questions on deployment of self-driving cars sooner than the time required for entire development of technology. Uber has faced a lot of criticism from various parts of the world as the accident took place even when a human driver was present inside the car.
The U.S. ride hailing giant has invested enormously in autonomous driving technology. Many auto manufacturers have been striving to develop self-driving technology and launch the autonomous vehicle in the market as soon as possible to gain first-mover’s advantage. Uber stopped its testing operations in other regions. But the aftermath of accident was not restricted to harm to its reputation. The company has found itself isolated from the partners, suppliers, and government officials. They have criticized the company instantly and distanced themselves.
Uber’s reputation had been marred by various scandals including toxic workplace culture and data breaches. Now, suppliers and competitors have also criticized Uber for the recent incident. Executives of companies that supply autonomous vehicle technologies have clarified that their systems would have predicted the pedestrian and stopped. Uber’s competitor Waymo’s chief executive said autonomous vehicles of his company would never have bumped into a pedestrian. However, this is the first incident in which executives of competitors have been commenting publicly about each other during investigations.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, who helped in granting permission to test self-driving technology through implementation of stringent regulations, wrote to Uber’s CEO, outlining that he expected firms developing self-driving technology to take safety very seriously and make it their top priority. The recent accident, he said, “is an unquestionable failure to comply with this expectation.”
The incident was caught on the dashboard camera and raised a huge concern about public trust in self-driving vehicles. The incident would turn public opinion against the self-driving technology that had relatively light regulations from state as well as federal authorities. “More incidents like the one last week could do further harm to already fragile consumer trust and spur reactive regulation that could stifle this important work,” wrote Intel Corp.’s Mobileye Chief Executive Officer Amnon Shashua, in a company blog post.
An executive of Velodyne Lidar Inc., a manufacturer of the laser-based sensors deployed in Uber and self-driving cars by other companies, highlighted that its technology could detect the pedestrian. The Velodyne lidar “doesn’t make the decision to put on the brakes or get out of her way,” said the President of the company Marta Thoma Hall. This is the function of self-driving software.
As other companies have been saying that they could make the technology better than this, there must be some evidence based on which they have been making such claims. There must be better internal standards or better way of conducting testing operations. This incident shows that there is an urgent need for performance standards from public regulations.