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Uber aware cars were “routinely in accidents” just days before fatal accident

Leaked email reveals Uber was told of cars’ shortcomings just days before a woman was killed in Arizona

Jake Stones
13 Dec 2018
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A former operations manager for Uber’s driverless car program is reported to have emailed company executive to warn them of the cars’ shortcomings, just days before one of their autonomous vehicles fatally hit a woman in Arizona.

A leaked email from Robbie Miller warned the company’s executives that its self-driving cars were not safe, advising that they were “routinely in accidents”. The shortcomings, he revealed, were partly attributed to faulty technology, but also to the “poor behaviour” of operators.

READ NEXT: Uber: a company where scandal is as common as morning coffee

Miller sent his email to the head of Uber’s autonomous vehicle unit, Eric Meyhofer, as well as six other executives and lawyers. Within it, he expressed concern about the frequency with which the company’s autonomous vehicles got into accidents, noting that “a car was hit every other day during testing.”

Mere days after Miller’s email was sent back in March, one of Uber’s driverless cars was embroiled in a fatal road accident in Tempe, Arizona.

Immediately after the collision, Uber halted testing of all of its autonomous vehicles. An investigation being conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is still in progress.

According to the initial report of the leaked email by news site The Information, Miller’s email also reported three apparent instances where the self-driving vehicles had made significant errors. In one incident, a self-driving Uber nearly brought about a collision with another car, however an accident was avoided as a result the other vehicle taking avertive action.

However, another incident resulted in an autonomous Uber driving on the sidewalk for several metres.

READ NEXT: Uber fires 100 driverless car researchers following deadly Arizona crash

Miller claims that these accidents were ignored, and that reviews wouldn’t occur for days or weeks following them.

Uber’s autonomous program has made headlines before, when one of its cars was in an accident and knocked onto its side. That incident was deemed to be the result of human error, with the driver reportedly failing to give way.

Sadly, in the Tempe collision, the NTSB state that the autonomous Uber “detected but ignored” the pedestrian. If Miller’s email is to be believed, there are troubling parallels between the vehicle’s behaviour trajectory and that of its creators.

Uber is yet to respond to the revelations.

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