The autonomous car industry has suffered its greatest setback to date following Uber’s self driving car’s fatal collision with pedestrian, Elaine Herzberg in Arizona, USA. The incident made global headlines and, being the first accident of its kind, has raised further questions and concerns about self-driving car technology.
So how has the industry reacted and what does the future now hold for autonomous vehicles?
A New York Times investigation has found that Uber’s self driving cars were not performing as expected months before the fatal collision. Through sources and documents obtained by the New York Times they were able to report that as of March this year Uber was finding it hard to meet its goal in Arizona of 13 miles per intervention [by the onboard safety driver]. Taken into context, Waymo’s self-driving car tests reported that in California their drivers would have to intervene on average every 5,600 miles.
Following the incident, Uber immediately halted their testing across the United States but now they have been banned from performing any driverless vehicle testing in Arizona. While this may not be the end of Uber’s autonomous car venture it may be a while before we see them back on the roads testing again.
But what about the other companies in the driverless industry?
Toyota is the biggest name in the autonomous car industry to have also decided to halt testing in the wake of this incident. Their main concern is the state of mind of their drivers and according to their spokesperson, Rick Bourgoise they “do plan to resume testing at an appropriate time.” All the other big players however, including Waymo who also test in Arizona, have continued on with their road tests.
Waymo’s CEO, John Krafcik has gone so far as to say that their driverless car would have likely been able to avoid the fatal accident. He said “I want to be really respectful of Elaine, the woman who lost her life, and her family, (but) in the case of a pedestrian or a pedestrian with a bicycle, we have a lot of confidence that our technology would be robust and would be able to handle situations like that one.”
His confidence and the confidence of others in the industry to not halt any testing is certainly an indication of how far along a lot of this technology is. With over 5 million self-driven miles completed by Waymo alone without any major accidents, it’s not hard to see why they feel comfortable continuing on. Especially since the public backlash against self-driving vehicles following Uber’s incident has not been as great as some were expecting.
There are states in the US like Florida who are still inviting companies to come and test their driverless technology on the roads. China have also just approved online search engine Co. Baidu to begin testing self-driving trucks in Beijing in low pedestrian suburban areas.
So what next for the industry?
Considering the bulk of autonomous vehicle companies have continued with their testing following the incident in Arizona, the industry doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. It appears that Uber’s self driving technology was not highly representative of their competitors, most of whom have been in the game for longer and all of whom can claim only minor incidents on behalf of their own tech.
As the industry continues to grow it will learn from past mistakes. New innovations will come along and bring technology that will only enhance the safety and security of autonomous vehicles. The safer autonomous vehicles become on the road, the more people will look to their security and what is being done to protect their connected cars from malicious attacks.
Cube Intelligence is an example of a company looking at doing just that. Cube is developing a security platform based on Blockchain that will make sure self-driving vehicles can protect their functions and communicate data without the risk of hacking. They plan to continue developing the platform using AI to ensure that the security system is always learning and staying ahead of those looking to maliciously infiltrate the vehicle.
So the priorities for this still relatively new and seemingly unstoppable industry is clear. Keep people in and around the vehicle safe and keep the data and controls of the vehicle secure.