Uber robot car misses red light

SUBHEAD: As Uber launches self driving car in San Francisco incident causes DMV to shut it down.

By Alex Davies on 14 December 2016 for Wired.com -

Image above: Still frame from dash camera video of Uber car blowing through red light in San Francisco in December 2016. From video below.

[IB Publisher's note: I suspect the drivers will take the brunt of blame for mishaps during the phasing in of robotic cars that will eventually replace them. I doubt we'll hear much mea culpa from Uber about not getting permission to start this program without DMV permits.]

An Uber equipped to drive itself ran a red light in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood Wednesday morning, per a YouTube video apparently shot from a local Luxor cab and reported by The Examiner:
In the video, a Volvo XC90 SUV decked out in the sensors Uber uses to see the world plowed through the intersection roughly three seconds after the light went red, and as a pedestrian was stepping into the crosswalk.

In a statement, Uber spokesperson Chelsea Kohler said the car was being operated by its human driver at the time and had no passengers aboard, and that Uber has suspended that driver while it investigates.2

Even if it was a human at the wheel, it’s bad news on the day Uber announced it’s welcoming passengers aboard its fleet of driverless cars in the city, and that it’s doing so without filing for an autonomous testing permit with the California DMV. Declining to do that likely means Uber doesn’t have to publicly report things like crashes and “disengagements”—when the human operator takes control to make sure the car operates safely.

In a letter sent to Uber self-driving chief Anthony Levandowski on Wednesday afternoon, California DMV counsel Brian Soublet said that if Uber does not immediately confirm it will stop testing and seek a permit, the DMV will take legal action and seek an injunction. Uber did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.3

Video above: The reality! What appears to be an Uber driverless car blows through red light in San Francisico. From (https://youtu.be/_CdJ4oae8f4) and original article.
Charles Rotter, operations manager at Luxor, confirmed to the Examiner that the video was from Wednesday.

“Yes, the dashcam of one of our ramp vans at 10:37 this am,” he wrote, in an email.

The cab pulls up to a red light on Third Street in South of Market, by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. A pack of cars flies through a yellow light, and one even drives through the first moment of a red light.

About three seconds after the light turned red, an Uber self-driving car can apparently be seen traveling through the red light at moderate speed as a pedestrian walks across the intersection on the right side of the intersection.
While the video does show an Uber vehicle driving through a red light, it is not clear whether the vehicle was self-driven at the time.

The cameras at the top of the vehicle indicate that it is capable of operating without a driver, but such vehicles can still be driven by humans — and it is entirely possible that this video shows the result of human error.

It is difficult to see inside the vehicle's window as it runs the red light, but a still shot of the image appears to show a face reflecting off the windshield:

Of course, this is not definitive proof that the vehicle was being driven by a human at the time of the incident. The face may show a person in the passenger's seat, or it may not be a face at all.  Uber confirmed in a statement to TechCrunch that the incident was due to human error:
This incident was due to human error. This is why we believe so much in making the roads safer by building self-driving Ubers. This vehicle was not part of the pilot and was not carrying customers. The driver involved has been suspended while we continue to investigate.
Later in the afternoon of 14 December 2016, the state of California's Department of Motor Services ordered Uber to halt its self-driving car rides, effective immediately, as its "autonomous vehicles" were operating without the proper permits:
The DMV requires a permit to use autonomous vehicles on public roads. Uber, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment, had previously argued that its technology was exempt.

“The rules apply to cars that can drive without someone controlling or monitoring them,” wrote Anthony Levandowski, head of Uber’s Advanced Technology Group, in a blog post published early Wednesday morning, before the DMV letter came out. “For us, it’s still early days, and our cars are not yet ready to drive without a person monitoring them.”

Video above: The smooze! A promotional spot introducing Uber's driverless program in San Francisico. From (https://youtu.be/OKJK3_XIGD4) and original article..

So far, twenty companies have reportedly obtained the permits to test autonomous cars on California roads.


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