In a fatal accident on March 19, Uber’s prototype self-driving car struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona. This incident raised alarms about safety problems in self-driving tech and Uber was criticized. In a shocking revelation made yesterday, The Information reported, that days before the fatal accident, an Uber manager tried to warn the company’s top executives about the danger.
Robbie Miller, a manager in the testing-operations group, sent an email to Eric Meyhofer, the head of Uber’s autonomous vehicle unit, Jon Thomason, VP of software, and five other executives and lawyers on March 13. He warned them about the dangers of the software powering the company’s prototype robo-taxis. He also warned that the human backup drivers in the vehicles weren’t properly trained to do their jobs, the Information reports.
What did Miller’s email say
In his email, Miller pointed to an incident in November 2017, when an Uber car had nearly caused a crash. He prepared a report and urged the Uber team to investigate but was ignored. He was told that “incidents like that happen all of the time.” Per Miller, “A car was damaged nearly every other day in February,” Miller said. “We shouldn’t be hitting things every 15,000 miles.”
Miller was part of Uber’s self-driving truck project, which he described as having relatively good safety procedures. The other projects focused on cars, and Miller argued that its safety procedures were extremely inadequate.
In his report, Miller mentioned several ways to improve safety. He suggested Uber put two people in every vehicle. The driver should focus on the road while the other passenger can monitor the driving software and log misbehavior. Miller also argued that Uber should drastically scale back its testing program. “I suspect an 85% reduction in fleet size wouldn’t slow development,” he wrote. Moreover, he wanted Uber to take strict actions against the fleet in case of a car crash. Everyone involved in the self-driving car project from developers to safety drivers should be given the authority to ground the fleet if they see a safety problem. He also wanted more personnel to have access to Uber’s incident reporting database.
People on the internet expressed their disdain over Uber’s safety neglect and sided with Miller.
It really is astounding that Uber's reckless and fatal expansion of a dangerous self-driving program – that its own employees were screaming alarms about! – hasn't lead to a criminal investigation. https://t.co/03ATf5A5by
— DHH (@dhh) December 12, 2018
In March an Uber self-driving car prototype in Pittsburgh swerved off a public road and drove on the sidewalk during the day. The incident was "essentially ignored" if not for a whistleblower. https://t.co/opafKH7IZH pic.twitter.com/nfn8cQn2Dl
— Amir Efrati (@amir) December 11, 2018
It's absolutely astounding how shitty uber's self-driving cars were. The people in charge of this program should go to jail. pic.twitter.com/1TdSo5DHOR
— sudo lindenberg -f (@sudo_lindenberg) December 12, 2018
Responding to the Information’s report, Uber said that “the entire team is focused on safely and responsibly returning to the road in self-driving mode,” The company intends to eventually resume on-the-road self-driving testing, but it will do so “only when these improvements have been implemented and we have received authorization from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.”
This story first appeared on The Information.