Tech

There are now driverless Ubers in San Francisco and they’re causing chaos

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Chris Sayer
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Oh boy, it’s all kicking off on the roads of San Francisco right now.

In a giant step towards a totally driver-less service, Uber has brought a small number of self-driving cars to the Californian city, actually allowing everyday people to experience the thrill of using the ride-hailing app with a robot taking control of the wheel while the company tests the new-age tech for glitches. 

Only, there’s been a few… teething problems. Firstly, Uber’s gone pedal to the metal with the driver-less roll-out without getting the right permissions first, and the Californian Department of Motor Vehicles is piiisssssed.  

But the real doozy? Only that one of its robo-cars – a luxury Volvo XC-90 SUV – has been filmed carelessly jumping a red light.

See it happen in the video below. It’s the big arrogant silver thing steaming on through at the ten-second mark just as a person to the right of frame starts to cross the road.

Uber have claimed that there was a human at the wheel of its automated automobile at the time of its law-breaking, red light-bombing offence. 

In response to the video, an Uber spokesperson told BuzzFeed, “Safety is our top priority. These incidents have been reported and we are looking into what happened.”

The human error excuse is a half-decent one though, given that each of the robo-motors does have an Uber driver on board to take over if the tech fails, or if the customer prefers a human to take them to where they need to go, rather than a bunch of sensors, bloops, and bleeps. Which they probably would, seeing as Uber execs are totally cool with admitting their tech is still nowhere near ready to go without flesh ’n’ blood poised to jump in when, say, it’s about to run a red light and hit a member of the population who’s crossing the road at the same time. SO, YEAH, GOOD, THAT’S ALL TOTALLY FINE THEN. 

Anyway, ignoring traffic signals isn’t the reason the Cali DMV is so livid at Uber’s futuristic wagons: they’re annoyed because, by law, testing of a self-driving prototype vehicle requires a special permit. And Uber does nooo have said special permit. They reckon that, because their totally safe, cautious, and law-abiding human drivers are present in the vehicle at all times, they’re exempt from the rule. The DMV aren’t buying it though, and sent a letter Uber instructing them to cease testing immediately.

But the permit would only cost the app giant a measly $150, so why are they so against coughing up? Well, it’s because companies that do have the permit to test driver-less cars in Cali – there are twenty of them currently – are forced to state any crashes that may occur, or instances of the driver being forced to take over. And that could be damaging to the company’s image. Smart work, Uber. Sneaky and smart.

But the real question that needs answering? How the heck is a robot supposed to give us a 5-star rating to keep our 4.7-rating so enviably high? These are the real issues, Uber. Call us when you have those answers…

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Chris Sayer

Chris Sayer is a freelance journalist and editor based in London. Chris has interviewed some of the biggest names in entertainment and travelled the world doing an all manner of adventures for lots of brilliant magazines. He writes for Shortlist about booze but would probably prefer we let him write about fishing instead. Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisSayer00

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