SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — Nine months after one of Uber’s autonomous cars killed a woman, the company is taking steps to ramp up it’s driverless car project.
On Thursday, in the southeastern corner of San Francisco, people drove several cars outfitted with special antennae to gather information for the company’s project.
Uber’s driverless car project has been on hold since March, when one of its cars struck and killed Elaine Herzberg, 49, in Tempe, Arizona.
A safety driver was in the car, but she was looking down at a streaming movie right before the crash. At that time, Uber suspended all autonomous car testing.
“I think it’s a good idea to take a break, come off the road for a bit, figure out, what exactly happened, what do we need to work on for the future?,” says Trevor Curwin, the Editor in Chief at the tech publication RTInsights.com.
Uber, which is planning to go public, has an image problem due to years of asking for forgiveness instead of permission. A new executive team is trying to change the culture at the company, which may explain Uber’s more careful approach to the autonomous car project.
Curwin says it’s not just good for public relations; the technology demands a slow pace.
“If you think about these technologies, right now they’re really like sixteen-year-olds learning how to drive for the first time–they’ve just gotten out of the mall parking lot and are learning how to make right hand turns,” he said.
“The good news is, in twenty years, they’ll drive like 36-year-olds.”
In the meantime, Curwin suggested that all tech companies remember that autonomous cars are not code.
“There’s kind of this Silicon Valley ethos about moving fast and breaking things. It’s one thing if you’re Facebook saying you’re going to do that. It’s another thing when the algorithm you’re testing is tied to a ton of steel and glass that can cut through your crosswalk,” Curwin said.
When the things that are being broken are humans, that mantra doesn’t work. A more community-based approach is needed.
“It’s not just an algorithm, it’s hardware and very lethal hardware,” says Curwin.
“Companies need to be thinking, ‘How do I get the right buy in from from everybody who takes on some of the risk from being around this technology while I’m testing it?'”
So far, Uber is taking things very slowly in California. The California Department of Motor Vehicles confirmed that Uber does not have a license to test autonomous vehicles, and that Uber has not submitted an application for such a license.
In other words, they won’t be testing on California roads any time soon.