Uber's self-driving cars are having a little trouble getting down the road on their own. During the week of March 8, the 43 active self-driving Uber cars on the road only drove an average of about 0.8 miles before the safety driver had to take the wheel, according to internal documents acquired by Recode.
Uber uses a metric called "miles per intervention," and according to Recode, it records every single time a driver has to take control of a self-driving car for any reason. "Critical interventions" are also tracked, which only count the times a driver takes control to avoid causing harm-basically whenever they have to grab the wheel to avoid hitting something. Most often, however, the driver has to assume control of the vehicle while it's navigating unclear lane markings, overshooting a turn, or driving in inclement weather.
The average of 0.8 miles before a driver has to take control is a minor decrease in performance from earlier in the year; the cars were were driving 0.9 miles in January. Uber has been testing self-driving cars in a variety of locations. In Pittsburgh, cars are driving semi-autonomously with drivers ready to take the wheel at all times, which is where the new metrics came from.
Uber is also testing autonomous car technology in Arizona. The rider experience there has been described as "not great." Cars in Arizona are only getting 0.67 miles on average before a human needs to take control and only two miles between "critical" events.
Uber is behind other companies in developing self-driving car technology. Google, for example, started testing self-driving cars in 2009. One of the first major breakthroughs was in 2012, when Italian company VisLab built a self-driving car that negotiated two-way narrow rural roads, traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, speed bumps, pedestrian areas, and tight roundabouts for twenty minutes without any intervention.
Uber's goals with self-driving cars are ambitious, and they have outfitted a fleet of cars with "radars, laser scanners, and high resolution cameras." The company wants to combine its already-proven ride share model with self-driving cars, and they want to continue building valuable stores of data by tracking urban movement in different parts of the day.
So while Uber might be at an early stage of development with its self-driving car, it's very much in the company's interest to get these problems sorted out as quickly as possible.
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