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Uber grounds self-driving fleet following crash

Uber's self-driving fleet taken off the road in Arizona, San Francisco & Pittsburgh (Photo: Uber)

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Kate Mann
Kate Mann
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An Uber reaction? Ride-sharing firm takes strong measures following recent SUV accident.

Car crashes rarely hit the headlines these days. Particularly nonfatal ones. Unless, that is, they concern driverless technology. Such an example was seen this weekend, when an accident involving a car in self-driving mode in Arizona made news around the world. Ride-hailing company Uber is now struggling to deal with the challenging aftermath.

The vehicles in question were a Volvo XC90 – part of the Uber autonomous test car fleet – and one conventional car. As reported by the BBC, images of the flipped SUV next to a second damaged car were posted online. Luckily, no one was badly injured. According to the BBC, local police say the incident occurred when the other vehicle “failed to yield” to the Uber. As is standard for Uber’s self-driving cars, there was a driver behind the wheel at the time. Whether or not they were controlling the vehicle remains unclear.

It was not only the crash that caught the media’s attention, but also the reaction to it. Quickly after the event, Uber pulled its self-driving fleet from the road. And not only in Arizona. As reported by TechCrunch, an Uber spokesperson confirmed: “Our vehicles in Arizona remain grounded while we continue our investigation. Our vehicles are grounded in Pittsburgh and SF today as well.”

This recent episode comes at a time when Travis Kalanick’s company is already facing public scrutiny. In February, Google announced plans to sue Uber over “stolen” driverless technology. Whilst in December 2016, the firm was forced to admit that their self-driving pilot vehicles used in San Francisco pose a threat to cyclists. As suggested by TechCrunch, it is events such as these that could be behind this recent more cautious reaction. 

The Uber crash is of course not the only, nor the most serious, accident involving self-driving technology. In 2016, a Tesla Model S electric sedan car set to Autopilot collided with a truck in Florida. The Tesla driver was killed. Although this crash resulted in an extensive investigation and analysis, the Tesla vehicles remained in circulation.

With one of the main goals of automated driving being increased road safety, it is clear why such crashes are widely reported. However, accepting that there could be some bumps in the road along the way, and that the number of crashes will be significantly less than those involving “normal” cars, will be key to overcoming one of the biggest hurdles for driverless technology: acceptance

Read more in a BBC article here and a TechCrunch article here.  

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Kate Mann
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