Popular ride-hailing company Uber has to deal with another setback. Specifically, a car crash in Tempe, Arizona involving an Uber self-driving car rolling onto its side after another vehicle hit it. Fortunately, no serious injuries resulted in the accident.
Non-fatalities aside, Uber halted all operations of its self-driving fleet of cars in Arizona. In a time where self-driving technology generates its fair share of headlines and controversy, the Arizona crash may have an even bigger, more significant casualty: Uber itself.
A Cause for Concern
According to reports, the Uber car had its autonomous mode turned on, with a human behind the wheel. Tempe police pointed out, however, that the self-driving car was not at fault for the accident. Another car, driven fully by a human, ran past a traffic signal and slammed into the Uber SUV.
These incidents are the reason self-driving technology was developed. Human error accounts for an overwhelming 94% as the leading cause of automotive accidents. Looking at this statistic alone explains the desire by Silicon Valley experts to eliminate the human equation from driving high-speed automobiles.
The Arizona incident also poses a dilemma for Uber: if self-driving tech fails to take off with Uber at the helm, it might take down the company with it.
All or Nothing Bet on A.I.
Competition is fierce in this emerging segment. Tesla has its Model S and upcoming budget-friendly Model 3 toting the latest ‘Autopilot’ feature, as well as Google’s self-driving fleet (now called Waymo) making significant progress on the automation front.
However, both companies had made headlines when their cars got involved in crashes as well (though people still mostly caused these accidents). Then again, neither company has made autonomous driving its bread and butter. Tesla, for the most part, aims to make automotive battery tech the norm to do away with fossil fuel dependence. Google has its extensive search engine business in its pocket, so no worrisome losses there either.
The development and success of their self-driving tech weigh heavily upon Uber’s shoulders, as they have the most to gain or lose depending on where the scales tip.
Uber will likely forge ahead with its driver-free car service ambitions, especially if investigations of the Arizona crash yield favorable results – and it should. No worthy endeavor is easy, though, as Travis Kalanick’s company faces multiple issues on different fronts, including a patent lawsuit filed by Waymo, and an Uber manager’s remarks regarding sexism in the tech industry.
Several tech observers point out that the Arizona crash makes the need for autonomous vehicles more imperative than ever. This observation seems to take a backseat to the high-profile drama of Uber’s troubles, and their uphill battle to dominate the transport market.
When not dealing with Kalanick and Co.’s South Korean escort bar scandals, the advancement of self-driving technology strives to sway public opinion to its cause. It is very telling how humans usually cause crashes involving AI-guided cars. Humans are brilliant drivers if texting, drunkenness or heightened emotions do not distract them from the task. Flaws like these do not apply to machines.
So while Uber’s (for now) grounded fleet of AI-driven cars is disappointing, it should not dissuade companies from pursuing the tech to its full potential – and neither should Uber’s ultimate fate discourage the public from giving these lifesavers a chance.