Revelations this week about a lack of public information surround Arizonan government authorization of Uber’s autonomous driving program, in addition to claims about the the detection systems on the vehicle in question have led to deep consequences for Uber.
Volvo has publicly said that the safety features that are equipped standard on the vehicle were deliberately disabled so that Uber could implement their native detection tools, in an attempt to distance themselves from the incident. Mobileye technology, who developed the chips used to run the automation software, has also commented on the incident, making it clear that this detection technology is still far from perfect. It is clear that a failure occurred in the detection software, but some who are lobbying for bans on autonomous vehicles fail to note the distinction between companies, technologies, and the vehicles involved in these technologies.
A Guardian investigation has also pushed forward ideas that the governor deliberately gave favorable treatment to the company and allowed their licensure in exchange for provided office space and promises of jobs for the state. After the previous state governor, Jan Brewer, pushed unfavorable legislation for the ride-hailing app-based company, Doug Ducey, elected in 2014, was apparently heavily lobbied and provided a more hospitable business environment for Uber. Uber apparently ordered low priority to enforcement of taxi-license laws for the ride hailing service, and in 2015, the capital, Phoenix, received a call center with 300 employees. Uber soon donated 25,000 to the University of Arizona’s College of Optical Sciences, aiming to collaborate with them for its lidar technology.
After Uber later launched a fleet of self driving cars in California without the proper licensure, the state revoked most of the vehicles registration after some were spotted breaking minor traffic rules, and they were then trucked to Arizona to operate.
The reporting implied that Arizona had some of the weakest laws surrounding requirements for autonomous vehicles in the US, and that this was partially as a result of an unusually cozy relationship between the governor and the company. This may lead to charges of influence peddling or outright corruption.
Uber was also in the news this week for divesting their South-East Asian operations to Grab, in exchange for a 27.5 percent share in the company and Uber’s CEO’s placement on the Grab board of directors.
The long term consequences on the company will remain to be seen.
Staff writer: Ari B