Motoring critics have predicted that 2017 will be the year when autonomous vehicles or self-driving cars will be hitting the road officially.
But tech company Uber decided to get a head start on the rest that it launched its testing program for driverless vehicles last month. Unfortunately, one of its vehicles accelerated into an intersection while the light was still red, causing an uproar among critics and skeptics of autonomous car technology.
More than anything else, it raises new safety concerns about the risks and perils of an unregulated technology.
According to a business owner who has personally witnessed the incident that happened on December 15, the car malfunctioned while in its self-driving mode and caused a near collision in San Francisco, reports The Guardian.
Christopher Koff, the owner of the local café AK Subs, said that he saw how the driverless Uber Volvo ran the red light on its own and noted that the automation technology was clearly in control of the car. He added that another car that had the green light in the same intersection had to slam the brakes to avoid a crash.
Pointing the finger on the driver and not the technology
It is also expected that Uber will be meted sanctions by the California government because it introduced the self-driving car without permits, accordingly as part of a mere testing program.
Advocacy group Consumer Watchdog also lashes at the public claim of Uber that the red light violation by its autonomous car was the result of human error and the driver, not the technology.
Uber has openly refused to adhere to California regulations, claiming that its defiance of government was an issue of principle.
It would be interesting to note if the state government of California will allow Uber with a mere slap on the wrist on the issue notwithstanding that the case was only a near miss or will it go hard against the corporation for its open defiance.
Driverless Uber cars have been spotted in San Franciso as early as September last year but it was only last month when the company launched a pilot program to riders.
California officials have insisted that the ride-sharing corporation, which is headquartered in San Franciso, needs testing permits, noting that 20 other companies have followed protocols.
But Uber remained adamant, ignoring Attorney General Kamala Harris’ threat of legal actions, averring that they do not need permits since their vehicles have drivers monitoring and also citing the vehicles’ state-of-the-art technology and core safety capabilities.
Embracing regulators, not shunning them
Critics have argued that regardless of whether violations occur in self-driving mode or while a human is in control, Uber needs to be responsible for dangers posed by its cars and should be embracing regulators, not shunning them.
John M. Simpson, privacy project director for Consumer Watchdog, who filed a report based on the San Francisco incident last month, said he suspects Uber does not want to follow regulations that would require it to disclose details about errors to the government.
Simpson explained that being able to understand the traffic signal and respond appropriately is a key requirement of any so-called self-driving technology
He also called for criminal charges against Uber because their driverless vehicle obviously failed the test.
As a way of addressing the incident which was caught on a dash cam video of another car, Uber said in a statement that the driver was suspended and insisted that the infraction in front of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art was due to human error, notes ABC of Australia.
Accordingly, the company has a policy that employees behind the wheel of the cars must constantly monitor them and be prepared to take over if the technology stops working, or is about to do something dangerous or illegal.
Uber offered the driver’s failure as evidence of the need to continue pushing ahead a technology that proponents say will one day drive far more safely than humans.