Uber Issues Nationwide Suspension of Self-Driving Cars

Uber logo (Anthony Wallace / AFP / Getty)
Anthony Wallace / AFP / Getty

Uber has suspended its multi-state testing program for autonomous vehicles after one of its self-driving Volvos flipped up on its side after an accident.

It was only the latest bad news for Uber. Breitbart News reported a week earlier that the public relations turmoil surrounding Uber Technologies Inc. reached new heights when company president Jeff Jones resigned in a disagreement over “values” with the company’s founders.

Uber had already been reeling over allegations of sexual harassment and technology theft, coupled with increasing financial losses. But the one bright spot for Uber seemed to be its San Francisco, Pittsburg and Tempe autonomous (self-driving) vehicle tests winning praise from the tech community.

But on March 24, Bloomberg reported that one of Uber’s autonomous vehicles In Tempe, Arizona was involved in a high-impact crash. Shortly thereafter, a disturbing photo was posted on Twitter showing an Uber self-driving Volvo on its side and another banged up SUV.

A spokeswoman confirmed the incident to Bloomberg and stated that an Uber driver had been behind the wheel of its autonomous vehicle test car. He added that Uber had suspended autonomous ride-hailing in Arizona and had temporarily paused such activities in Pittsburg.

Despite Tempe Police information officer Josie Montenegro telling Bloomberg that there were no injuries and that their collision report found another car in violation for failing to yield the right-of-way, Uber announced on March 25 that they had suspended all autonomous vehicle testing until the company completed its own internal investigation.

Uber gained its self-driving car technology in October 2016 by acquiring a six-month old startup named Otto, whose CEO had been involved in the 2009 start-up of Google Venture’s Waymo self-driving vehicle program. Google’s parent, Alphabet, sued Otto and Uber last month claiming theft of designs for a key component of its self-driving cars known as LiDAR. Uber responded by calling the suit “baseless.”

LiDAR is an acronym for “Light Detection and Ranging.” Waymo describes the system as bouncing millions of laser beams off surrounding objects, and then measuring how long it takes for the light to reflect. The system creates a digital 3D view of the world.

Waymo is by far the autonomous system leader and has been conducting authorized self-driving car tests since 2012, racking up about 3 million miles using LiDAR-equipped models of the Toyota Prius, Audi TT, Lexus RX450h and Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans in Austin, Texas; Mountain View, California; and Kirkland, Washington.

Subsequently, Google alleged that it discovered that a former employee and the founder of Otto, Anthony Levandowski, downloaded over 14,000 confidential and proprietary design documents that are now key to Otto’s LiDAR system.

Both Waymo and Uber began autonomous car tests in Tempe and Chandler, Arizona on January 31. In a big send-off, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey took a ride in one of Waymo’s cars. He commented to the Arizona Republic newspaper, “I can think of no better place to push the boundaries and test those limits than right here in Arizona.” Waymo is continuing its autonomous testing in Arizona.


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