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Internal company documents obtained by Recode show that Uber’s self-driving cars regularly need human assistance.
The metrics show that Uber’s self-driving cars can barely drive a mile before they “disengage,” which is when a safety driver has to take control of the vehicle. Compared to company’s like Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving-car company, the data shows Uber has a very long way to go before achieving full autonomy.
Uber is conducting a pilot program in Pittsburgh using Ford Fusion cars retrofitted with its autonomous tech. The company attempted to launch another pilot in San Francisco, but was forced to leave after failing to obtain an autonomous driving permit.
We got a ride in Uber’s self-driving Ford Fusion back in September and experienced firsthand how regularly the car disengaged. Here’s what happens when the car fails and what it says about Uber’s place in the autonomous space:
Prior to the Pittsburgh pilot launch in September 2016, Uber said that its self-driving cars did disengage from time-to-time. In particular, the cars struggle to handle bridges because there aren’t enough environmental cues for the car to figure out where it is.
Uber actually chose Pittsburgh because it has so many bridges in order to troubleshoot that issue.
Uber has put itself in a tough place by marketing its cars as self-driving even though they disengage regularly.
When the California DMV asked Uber to obtain an autonomous vehicle license to test its cars, Uber said it shouldn’t have to because they have the same functionality as Tesla’s Autopilot and required a human driver.
Uber eventually pulled its pilot from San Francisco, but the dispute showed how Uber later tried to market its cars as semi-autonomous though initial announcements branded the cars as “self-driving.”
Uber let me get behind the wheel of its self-driving Ford Fusion last September. A button on the center console will kick the car into autonomous mode. Right next to it is a giant red “kill switch” that, when hit, lets you take control of the car again.
The kill switch isn’t entirely necessary, however, and Uber drivers are told it’s better to take over by pressing the brake or accelerator or turning the wheel yourself. A toolbar behind the wheel indicates which mode the car is in. When the car is in manual mode, there is a blue circle. If it is in autonomous mode, there is a green checkmark.
The car did perform relatively well in Pittsburgh. It accelerated just the right amount up steep hills and always had a smooth brake when approaching stopped cars. It also handled a difficult left turn on a busy street.
That being said, the car did have some problems. I was driving on a perfectly straight back road, pictured below, without any cars when I heard a ding indicating the car wasn’t driving itself anymore. The engineer in the passenger seat said he wasn’t sure why the car stopped driving.
When the car goes back into manual mode, it doesn’t automatically stall but begins to slow down. That means you have to be aware the entire time you’re behind the wheel in case you’re sharing the road with other vehicles.
When I was riding in the backseat, the car switched into manual mode on a busy bridge. Our driver had his hands on the wheel the entire time and took over so quickly you wouldn’t have known anything had happened had a noise not sounded. We were told the failure had nothing to do with being on a bridge, but instead it was triggered by the heavy traffic conditions.
There are also situations in which drivers are advised to take over even if the car doesn’t switch to manual mode on its own. When I was behind the wheel and approached a car that was pulled over with its hazard lights on, I was instructed to take over the wheel.
During my 5-mile ride as a passenger, the driver had to take control of the car on three separate occasions. It also disengaged twice when I was behind the wheel. In the week that ended March 8, internal documents showed the Uber’s cars disengaged once every 0.8 miles on average.
The internal documents show the self-driving cars haven’t come too far along since I got behind the wheel last September.
In many ways, Uber has landed itself in a similar situation as Tesla. When Tesla first launched Autopilot, the company received criticism that it overplayed the car’s self-driving capabilities.
Tesla has made some changes following those complaints. Tesla does not use any self-driving branding when it markets its cars. Additionally, a warning signal will sound if a driver removes his or her hands from the wheel while the car is driving with Autopilot activated.
Uber’s self-driving-car pilot is very limited, so the company has time to make improvements and change how it discusses its cars’ self-driving abilities going forward.
However, Waymo has asked a judge to freeze Uber’s use of its self-driving tech as part of a lawsuit against the company. If the injunction is granted, it could become difficult for Uber to improve its cars driving capabilities going forward.
Uber did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
More Info: www.businessinsider.sg