According to a recent announcement, Uber is now on its third generation of its self-driving car. They’re continuing their partnership with Volvo, using their self-driving technology at the factory level to retrofit a new XC90 SUV. They believe it will be road ready by next year after extensive facility and roadway testing.
The two companies have been working together for some time to produce safe self-driving vehicles that may one day replace the current ride-sharing platform.
Extensive Safety Features After Tragedy
As the tech in autonomous vehicles has advanced, Volvo and Uber have built more fail safes into their self-driving models. They believe it’s the safest model yet and that autonomous vehicles will make the road a safer place with fewer accidents.
“We believe autonomous drive technology will allow us to further improve safety, the foundation of our company,” Håkan Samuelsson, president and chief executive of Volvo Cars said in a press release. “By the middle of the next decade we expect one-third of all cars we sell to be fully autonomous. Our agreement with Uber underlines our ambition to be the supplier of choice to the world’s leading ride-hailing companies.”
The release cited several new backup systems, including multiple redundant backup systems for the battery, braking, and steering wheel, which will activate in case of an emergency.
“If any of the primary systems should fail for some reason, the back-up system is designed to immediately act to bring the car to a stop,” Uber says.
These safety features have yet to undergo full testing, but the two collaborators hope it will be enough to prevent catastrophe. Safety is their number one priority, according to Eric Meyhofer, CEO of Uber Advanced Technologies Group, Uber’s self-driving vehicle unit.
“Volvo has long been known for their commitment to safety, which is the cornerstone of their newest production-ready self-driving base vehicle,” he said in the press release. “When paired with our self-driving technology, this vehicle will be a key ingredient in Uber’s autonomous product suite.”
In light of previous events, these new safety measures are imperative. Volvo and Uber had to return to the drawing board with its current fleet of self-driving vehicles after one autonomous vehicle killed a pedestrian who was crossing in front of it in 2018. According to reports, the vehicle didn’t slow or stop before it struck the woman.
It became apparent later that the primary problem was that Uber had disabled the automatic emergency braking system. They had received complaints about erratic stopping and starting and believed this system would solve that problem—to drastic results.
Uber and Volvo laid low for some time before beginning testing on their new vehicles. In an interview with the Today show, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said that he did consider ending the self-driving vehicle program following the accident, but he said that they are currently doing a “top-to-bottom audit” and are “absolutely committed to self-driving cars.”
There’s been quite a bit of backlash regarding Uber’s self-driving vehicles, likely because of the incident with the pedestrian in 2018. Meyhofer says he’s seen hostility from pedestrians towards Uber’s self-driving units.
“We've seen people bully these cars — they feel like they can be more aggressive because we won't take a position on it, or we'll allow it,” Meyhofer said at an Elevate conference.
He’s seen “mean-spirited” behavior ranging from rude gestures and shouted profanities to dangerous stunts. There’s video evidence of vehicles driving too close for comfort, failing to give the car the right-of-way at intersections, or even challenging the cars to brake suddenly.
The Arizona Republic also reported significant hostility towards Uber’s autonomous vehicles, including slashing tires or pulling guns on safety drivers.
The concept of self-driving vehicles being bullied seems like a funny concept, but it could lead to someone being seriously injured – and that’s the last thing anyone wants.
Uber seems unlikely to give up, despite backlash from the crowd, but the testing has become more limited. There are far fewer vehicles being tested on public streets as of now, and it may be some time before testing is back up to the same scale it was at before the incident of 2018.
Larry Alton is a professional blogger, writer, and researcher. A graduate of Iowa State University, he's now a full-time freelance writer and business consultant.Currently, Larry writes for Entrepreneur.com, Inc.com, and Forbes.com, among others. In addition to journalism, technical writing and in-depth research, he’s also active in his community and spends weekends volunteering with a local non-profit literacy organization and rock climbing. Follow him on Twitter (@LarryAlton3), at LinkedIn.com/in/larryalton, and on his website, LarryAlton.com. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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