Monday, March 27, 2017
Uber announced Saturday it is suspending its autonomous vehicle testing in Arizona after one of its Volvo XC90s in self-driving mode was involved in an accident in Tempe on Friday. The announcement received wide national attention, with two network broadcasts, several print dailies, wires, and local outlets providing coverage. Although no one was seriously injured and there were no customers in the Volvo, the incident raises bigger questions about the integration of autonomous vehicles on public roads.
ABC World News Tonight (3/25, story 12, 0:20, Llamas, 14.63M) broadcast “the test SUV” ended up “on its side” after another “car hit it after failing to yield to the vehicle.” The CBS Weekend News (3/25, story 7, 0:15, Ninan) broadcast the car being operated by a human “sideswiped the automated car after an illegal left turn.” Reuters (3/25, Cherelus) reports there were two vehicle “safety” drivers in the front seats of the Volvo, the Uber “standard requirement” in all its autonomous vehicle tests.
The New York Times (3/25, Isaac, Subscription Publication, 13.9M) reports Uber spokesperson Chelsea Kohler said “We are continuing to look into this incident and can confirm we had no back-seat passengers in the vehicle.” In the meantime, “she said Uber had also suspended testing in Pittsburgh and San Francisco for the day” on Saturday, “and possibly longer.” The Times points out that Friday’s incident “comes at a difficult time for Uber,” which has jumped from regulatory show-downs to crisis management over the past few months – its dispute with state regulators over California testing, the Waymo lawsuit, Uber’s Greyball program, the video of CEO Travis Kalanick arguing with a driver, and sexual harassment allegations from former employees.
The Washington Post (3/25, Overly, 11.43M) reports “the accident once again raises questions about the safety of autonomous driving technology and how it will interact with other drivers on the road.” In spite of the fact that “automobile and technology companies alike are dumping billions of dollars into the technology with the idea that one day our cars will no longer need human pilots,” Friday’s accident shows “that future is still far off.” The regulatory environment is also unstable, but from NHTSA to Congress to state legislatures around the country the “push and pull between freewheeling innovation and regulatory oversight that many new technologies endure” is unfolding. Part of that discussion involves the “debate about public tolerance for injuries and deaths as a result of self-driving cars.”
The Wall Street Journal (3/25, Bensinger, Subscription Publication, 6.37M) puts the accident in context of Uber’s wider strategy, the race against companies like Waymo, which has logged more test hours on its self-driving cars than any other company, to develop reliably autonomous vehicles. Uber depends on the development of autonomous vehicles to reduce labor costs from its drivers.