Uber Self-Driving Experiment Crashes to a (Temporary) Halt

By: Bridget Clerkin March 28, 2017
Uber has temporarily taken its self-driving cars off the road.
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Uber pulled the emergency brake on thousands of self-driving cars this weekend, temporarily shutting down its experimental autonomous rideshare service after one of its test vehicles was involved in a crash forceful enough to crunch the side of one car and send the other onto its side.

No one was injured in the accident, which happened last Friday in Tempe, Arizona, but the driver of the non-Uber car was issued a citation for his failure to yield while making a left turn.

For the rideshare giant, the incident chalked up to little more than a brief hiatus for its self-driving programs, after a whirlwind investigation into the matter wrapped up by the weekend’s end, allowing the tech company to send its fleet of driverless cars back into the streets late Monday.

The wreck took place after a driver failed to yield when turning left at a traffic signal, according to the Tempe police, who cleared Uber of responsibility for the accident. That car then hit Uber’s autonomous Volvo SUV, which was in self-driving mode and traveling in the opposite direction at the time of the crash.

Two Uber engineers were in the car at the time, although no one was in the backseat. Uber’s vehicle had the right of way in the situation, which is why the other driver was ticketed, police said. A full police report can be expected by mid-week.

Along with California and Pennsylvania, Arizona is the third state where the rideshare giant has been testing out its driverless fleet.

The Grand Canyon State is especially lenient when it comes to regulating the burgeoning self-driving industry, requiring little more than a police report to be filed in the face of the incident. Should the crash have happened in Uber’s hometown of San Francisco, the company would have been on the hook for filing a public accident report and subject to other state-mandated procedures—although a spate of new rules released this month by the California DMV has greatly broadened testing possibilities in the state for autonomous vehicle manufacturers.

Still, it’s not the first time a self-driving car has been involved in a collision. A test driver for Tesla died last summer when the autonomous prototype he was piloting crashed into the trailer of a semi-truck, and one of Google’s small driverless pods hit a bus last March.

So far losses have been minimal, and in nearly every case, the technology was found free of fault, but as testing continues, the possibility for incidents will increase—including situations where a collision is inevitable. Hopefully, the machines will prove to be quick learners and situations like this can be used to help build safer and smarter models going forward.

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