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Self-driving car makes Uber mistake

by Sarah Morris - Copy Editor
Tue, Mar 27th 2018 09:00 pm
The reach toward the future can sometimes be a dangerous one. Uber recently learned that lesson the hard way when the company's self-driving car killed someone.
The reach toward the future can sometimes be a dangerous one. Uber recently learned that lesson the hard way when the company's self-driving car killed someone.

As the human race grows in intelligence and gains new resources, our time and patience is thinning, and the demand for harder, better, faster and stronger technology is becoming more prevalent in the world. It is as if society is a rolling stone picking up speed down a hill of technology. Those in the 1920s who owned cars could not have imagined what our driving technology is like today. They would marvel at all the new, convenient features of our cars and the speeds they can go. The cars they used to drive are nothing more than artifacts pictured in history books now.

The car industry has grown so much in just a century and now, 98 years after the original Ford was released and sold across America, self-driving cars are the newest advancement in automobile technology. Some people are excited for this futuristic and rapid trend to catch on, while others, myself included, aren’t so keen on the idea of putting your life in a car's hands … or wheels. Statistics show that 90 percent of car crashes in the United States are caused by a driver error, and companies promise that self-driving cars will decrease the number of accidents by a whole 90 percent, which seems like an extremely high number for something so potentially dangerous that has only been tested for barely nine years. According to a Gallup poll, 59 percent of Americans are uncomfortable with the idea of traveling in a fully autonomous vehicle.

Recently, an accident, involving the popular lift company Uber’s self-driving cars, has caused a spark of fear for the technological future. Video footage from the dash camera of the car was released and showed footage of one of the cars, with the driver in the seat, on the highway at night. The driver was on her phone for the majority of the clip and managed to look up just a second before the car hit another person walking their bike across the road.

Though it’s true the victim, 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, was crossing the highway in the dark and wearing no reflectors while the Uber car was clearly speeding the victim’s way, the software of a self-driving car promises that humans can depend on its intelligence to transport them safely. They’re supposed to detect an object near the car and stop if it is too close.

I think it’s pretty clear that 100 percent autonomous, cars shouldn’t be on the road for another 10 years; the drivers and passengers’ protection should be top priority, rather than cool, futuristic technology. However, Uber itself is also to blame. According to Uber, the drivers are instructed to hover above the steering wheel at all times in case they need to retake control of the vehicle. After the incident, Uber released a statement.

“As we develop self-driving technology, safety is our primary concern every step of the way,” Uber spokesman Matt Kallman said. “We’re heartbroken by what happened this week, and our cars remain grounded. We continue to assist investigators in any way we can.”

Last year, Uber’s self-driving cars finished driving three million miles, featuring two groups of test drivers and another group that gave the cars challenges which needed human intervention to avoid an accident. It was reported that the cars couldn’t handle construction zones and would sometimes get confused around tall buildings. Those two things alone should be enough to take the Uber autonomous vehicles off the roads.

According to two people involved with Uber operations, several employees expressed their concerns to the managers at the company regarding safety. Instead of trying to fix any problems, the managers decided to make drivers train for the self-driving cars and developed an app to keep drivers alert, which isn’t good enough. They pushed for these self-driving cars to get customers to their destinations “as quickly as possible.” Also to improve efficiency and not safety, some cars only required one driver in late 2015, when Uber was beginning its self-driving cars.  

A huge company like Uber will most likely face reprecussions of some sort, but it’s not clear yet how the accident will affect Uber’s plan to release its self-driving car service across Arizona. What Uber is calling an accident should instead be called a scandal. Uber knew there was something wrong with its cars and it continued to use them anyway.

 

smorr11@u.brockport.edu

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