Uber Really Shouldn’t Be In the Driverless Car Business

Last night I mentioned something to a friend about the driverless car crash in Arizona:

The fact that it’s an Uber car doesn’t surprise me. They’re exactly the kind of company that would cut corners: cheap optics, lousy safety drivers, pushing to drive at night before the software is ready, etc. A corporate culture that’s built to expand their taxi service no matter who gets hurt or who complains might build a good taxi service, but it’s the worst possible culture for mission-critical software.

My point was that Uber famously has a corporate culture built around being a bull in a china shop, pushing the limits of expansion as far as they could and focusing obsessively on doing everything at light speed, before authorities could stop them or competitors could catch up. This is not the kind of company that’s likely to slow down to make sure their driverless cars work properly before pushing to the next stage. And sure enough, here’s the New York Times today:

Uber’s robotic vehicle project was not living up to expectations months before a self-driving car operated by the company struck and killed a woman in Tempe, Ariz. The cars were having trouble driving through construction zones and next to tall vehicles, like big rigs. And Uber’s human drivers had to intervene far more frequently than the drivers of competing autonomous car projects….As of March, Uber was struggling to meet its target of 13 miles per “intervention” in Arizona.

….There also was pressure to live up to a goal to offer a driverless car service by the end of the year and to impress top executives. Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s chief executive, was expected to visit Arizona in April, and leaders of the company’s development group in the Phoenix area wanted to give him a glitch-free ride in an autonomous car. Mr. Khosrowshahi’s trip was called “Milestone 1: Confidence” in the company documents.

….When Uber moved to a single operator, some employees expressed safety concerns to managers, according to the two people familiar with Uber’s operations. They were worried that going solo would make it harder to remain alert during hours of monotonous driving.

This kind of culture might be OK for, say, Facebook, which doesn’t kill people if there are glitches in its apps. But if you’re launching a satellite into space or putting a driverless car on the road, there’s a whole different development and testing ethos involved. Uber just doesn’t have that. I’d barely trust them to develop software for a driverless golf cart, let alone a driverless car.

The Times reports that Uber was planning to apply for a license to run a driverless car service in December. December! A year ago their cars couldn’t go 13 miles without a problem, but they still thought they’d be ready for full driverless operation in December? That’s crazy. Off the top of my head, I’d want to see something like an average of 10,000 miles between incidents before I thought I was within a year of applying for a limited license.

But not Uber. That’s just not their style.

AN IMPORTANT UPDATE

We’re falling behind our online fundraising goals and we can’t sustain coming up short on donations month after month. Perhaps you’ve heard? It is impossibly hard in the news business right now, with layoffs intensifying and fancy new startups and funding going kaput.

The crisis facing journalism and democracy isn’t going away anytime soon. And neither is Mother Jones, our readers, or our unique way of doing in-depth reporting that exists to bring about change.

Which is exactly why, despite the challenges we face, we just took a big gulp and joined forces with The Center for Investigative Reporting, a team of ace journalists who create the amazing podcast and public radio show Reveal.

If you can part with even just a few bucks, please help us pick up the pace of donations. We simply can’t afford to keep falling behind on our fundraising targets month after month.

Editor-in-Chief Clara Jeffery said it well to our team recently, and that team 100 percent includes readers like you who make it all possible: “This is a year to prove that we can pull off this merger, grow our audiences and impact, attract more funding and keep growing. More broadly, it’s a year when the very future of both journalism and democracy is on the line. We have to go for every important story, every reader/listener/viewer, and leave it all on the field. I’m very proud of all the hard work that’s gotten us to this moment, and confident that we can meet it.”

Let’s do this. If you can right now, please support Mother Jones and investigative journalism with an urgently needed donation today.

payment methods

AN IMPORTANT UPDATE

We’re falling behind our online fundraising goals and we can’t sustain coming up short on donations month after month. Perhaps you’ve heard? It is impossibly hard in the news business right now, with layoffs intensifying and fancy new startups and funding going kaput.

The crisis facing journalism and democracy isn’t going away anytime soon. And neither is Mother Jones, our readers, or our unique way of doing in-depth reporting that exists to bring about change.

Which is exactly why, despite the challenges we face, we just took a big gulp and joined forces with The Center for Investigative Reporting, a team of ace journalists who create the amazing podcast and public radio show Reveal.

If you can part with even just a few bucks, please help us pick up the pace of donations. We simply can’t afford to keep falling behind on our fundraising targets month after month.

Editor-in-Chief Clara Jeffery said it well to our team recently, and that team 100 percent includes readers like you who make it all possible: “This is a year to prove that we can pull off this merger, grow our audiences and impact, attract more funding and keep growing. More broadly, it’s a year when the very future of both journalism and democracy is on the line. We have to go for every important story, every reader/listener/viewer, and leave it all on the field. I’m very proud of all the hard work that’s gotten us to this moment, and confident that we can meet it.”

Let’s do this. If you can right now, please support Mother Jones and investigative journalism with an urgently needed donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate