Uber’s autonomous driving technology was apparently struggling to keep up with its competitors, according to reports.
The driverless car market is certainly getting crowded. All the biggest automakers, including GM, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Mercedes are all investing heavily in autonomous car technology. Even Silicon Valley is getting in on the action, including Lyft, Waymo (via Google), and ride-hailing service Uber.
But despite their technological roots, Uber seems to be trailing far behind the pack. According to a recent article from the New York Times, Uber’s self-driving Volvos were finding it difficult to go any real distance without human intervention. While Waymo could go up to 5,600 miles on California roads before ever needing a human to grab the wheel to avoid catastrophe, Uber was struggling to go even 13 miles in Arizona.
Worse still, the cars were also having difficulty when roads weren’t just as expected, such as with construction. On top of that, if the car was next to a taller vehicle, like say a big-rig truck, the sensors can become confused and either speed up or even stop the vehicle inadvertently.
Despite these limitations, Uber’s research and development teams were under pressure to produce something that could be presented to Uber’s top executives. Documents uncovered by the NYT reveal that Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi was supposed to visit the autonomous car testing grounds in April--a trip that is no longer scheduled after Uber’s recent fatal accident.
Last week, a self-driving Uber struck and killed a 49-year-old woman as she was crossing the road outside of a designated crosswalk. The investigation is still ongoing, but authorities so far have yet to find fault with either the driver or autonomous driving software.
Video footage from the car shows the woman coming out of the darkened side of the road, leaving very little time for the driver to grab the wheel and redirect the car. Footage also shows the Uber driver did not have his hands hovering over the wheel as required by internal company regulations.
The investigation is still ongoing.