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Uber believes AVs have a future

Uber Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi said on Wednesday that the ride-sharing company still believes in using autonomous technology after one of its self-driving vehicles was involved in a fatal crash in Arizona.

A pedestrian was killed after being hit by a self-driving Uber vehicle, resulting in the company to suspend testing of autonomous vehicles.

The accident has sparked conversations in the car industry about the apparent lack of safety standards for autonomous vehicles.

“We believe in it,” said Khosrowshahi, speaking at a transport forum, adding that Uber has always considered autonomous vehicles being “part of the solution.”

The company’s interest in investing in bike sharing and public transit should not be interpreted as a move away from self-driving cars, he added.

Arizona’s governor suspended Uber’s ability to test self-driving cars on public roads in the state following the crash.

Arizona had been key part of Uber’s autonomous project. About half of the company’s 200 self-driving cars and a staff of hundreds were located there. 

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Uber to invest heavily in Australia

Uber is investing heavily in Australia’s ride-hailing industry, according to a senior executive at the tech firm.

Ride-sharing has had good adoption in Australia and there’s competition from local rival GoCatch and other firms, like India’s Ola, who are planning to enter the market, Henry Greenacre, general manager for Australia and New Zealand at Uber, told CNBC.

Uber also said that it was expanding its presence in the country by launching its carpooling service, Uber Pool, in Sydney on April 3.

“We’re investing really heavily in Australia,” Greenacre said. “We think ride-sharing has had great adoption here but we think there’s still a huge amount of space for us to grow, and by investing in something like Uber Pool, we’re investing heavily in that. We think that product will stand on its own two feet relatively quickly.”

Currently there are more than 85,000 Uber drivers in Australia.

However, the firm’s losses surged 61 per cent in 2017 to US$4.5 billion, though its loss in the fourth quarter narrowed from the prior period.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is now focused on cleaning up the company’s battered reputation and instilling financial discipline to push toward profitability. 

When asked if he thought Uber was struggling in emerging markets, Greenacre said Uber has a “thriving business” in places like India and the Middle East. Yet, Indian media recently reported that Japan’s SoftBank, which is an investor in Uber and India’s Ola, could be pushing for a merger between the two firms in the future.

“Dara, our CEO, has come out and said we will continue to invest really heavily in those types of areas, as well as invest heavily in our more core markets and Australia is one of those markets,” Greenacre said.

“What he has also made clear is that we need to show a path to profitability and a path to IPO and this is all part of that,” he added.

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Uber doesn’t plan to renew self driving permit

The news comes less than two weeks after a self-driving Uber SUV struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona. After the tragedy, the company halted testing of its self-driving cars on roads in North America.

Uber has a self-driving permit in California until March 31 – and the company said it will let the permit expire.

“We decided to not reapply for a California DMV permit with the understanding that our self-driving vehicles would not operate on public roads in the immediate future,” an Uber spokesperson said in a statement to CNN.

Uber’s statement comes after several news outlets obtained a letter sent by DMV deputy director and chief counsel Brian Soublet to Uber’s public affairs manager, Austin Heyworth on Tuesday regarding its permit.

Soublet wrote that if and when Uber applies for a new autonomous vehicle testing permit, it will “need to address any follow-up analysis or investigations from the recent crash in Arizona an may also require a meeting with the department.”

The Tempe Police Department and the National Transportation Safety Board have launched investigations into the crash.

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Govt. officials put the brakes on self-driving vehicles

More than a week after an Uber self-driving car struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona, government officials and technology firms have begun reconsidering their deployment of the autonomous technology due to fears it may not be ready for public testing.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey banned Uber’s self-driving cars from the state’s roads Monday, stating he was “very disturbed” by police video showing the fatality.

The ban was limited to Uber, but held special significance because Ducey had previously welcomed Uber’s testing in the state by pitting Arizona’s comparatively relaxed regulatory framework to neighbouring California.

In a letter to Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi on Monday, Ducey said he was suspending the company’s self-driving tests until further notice, calling the video “disturbing and alarming” and explaining that it “raises many questions about the ability of Uber to continue testing in Arizona.”

 “Improving public safety has always been the emphasis of Arizona’s approach to autonomous vehicle testing, and my expectation is that public safety is also the top priority for all who operate this technology in the state of Arizona,” Ducey told Khosrowshahi in his letter. “The incident that took place on March 18 is an unquestionable failure to comply with this expectation.”

A spokesman for the governor said the ban would last indefinitely.

“We want to see the results of the pending investigations before making any further decisions,” the spokesman said. Pressed on why Uber was the only company whose self-driving operations were ordered suspended, the spokesman, Patrick Ptak, said it was because “there are currently three investigations into the company’s accident and technology.” Several technology firms and automakers are testing self-driving vehicles in the state, which does not require special permits.

Uber has already voluntarily suspended autonomous vehicle testing across North America in the wake of the crash.

Computer chip-maker Nvidia also suspended its autonomous vehicle tests on Tuesday amid the investigations into the Uber crash, Nvidia spokesman Fazel Adabi said. Nvidia supplies computing technology for Uber’s self-driving cars, including for the same model involved in last week’s crash, and is testing self-driving cars in California and New Jersey, among other locations.

 

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Uber had issues prior to crash

One of Uber’s autonomous cars

Uber’s self-driving vehicle project was not living up to expectations months before a self-driving car operated by the company struck and killed a woman in Arizona, USA.

The cars were having trouble driving through construction zones and next to tall vehicles, with Uber’s human back up drivers having to intervene far more frequently than the drivers of competing autonomous car projects.

Waymo, formerly the self-driving car project of Google, said that in tests on roads in California last year, its cars went an average of nearly 9,000 km before the driver had to take control from the computer to steer out of trouble. 

As of March, Uber was struggling to meet its target of 20 km per “intervention” in Arizona, according to company documents obtained by The New York Times and two people familiar with the company’s operations in the Phoenix area but not permitted to speak publicly about it.

There was also mounting 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.

Tech companies like Uber, Waymo and Lyft, as well as automakers like General Motors and Toyota, have spent billions developing self-driving cars in the belief that the market for them could one day be worth trillions of dollars.

On Monday, Uber halted autonomous car tests in Arizona, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto. It is not clear when the company will revive them.

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What the Uber fatality reveals

The tragedy of the first fatal collision between an autonomous vehicle and a pedestrian points to a potential vulnerability with the emerging technology now being tested on the open roads.

While self-driving vehicles can reliably see their surroundings using sophisticated sensors and cameras, the software doesn’t always understand what it detects.

New details have been released about Uber’s autonomous vehicle that struck and killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona, which indicate that neither the self-driving system nor the human safety driver behind the wheel hit the brakes when she apparently stepped off a median and onto the roadway, according to an account the Tempe police chief gave to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The human driver told police he didn’t see the pedestrian coming, and the autonomous system behaved as if it hadn’t either.

“The real challenge is you need to distinguish the difference between people and cars and bushes and paper bags and anything else that could be out in the road environment,” said Matthew Johnson-Roberson, an engineering professor at the University of Michigan who works with Ford Motor Co. on autonomous vehicle research, to BloombergTechnology. “The detection algorithms may have failed to detect the person or distinguish her from a bush.”

After the Uber collision, the car continued traveling at 38 miles per hour, according to the Tempe police chief, and the driver told police he wasn’t aware of the pedestrian until the car collided with her. A police spokeswoman said the speed limit where the accident occurred is 35 mph.

This highlights what Johnson-Roberson describes as a shortcoming in robot reasoning.

“I live in Ann Arbor, a college town,” Johnson-Roberson said. “So on football weekends, when there’s a bunch of drunk college kids, I drive at a lower speed. Those are the kind of human decisions we make to anticipate a situation, and that’s hard with autonomous cars. We’re not there yet.” 

Autonomous vehicles also struggle to master weather elements. Snow, ice and rain can obscure sensors and render the most advanced computing power useless. That’s one reason most self-driving cars are being tested in sunny climates like Arizona and Texas.

The death is a tragedy for her family, and also a public-relations disaster for Uber and other companies that want to test their technology on public roadways. Waymo announced last year it would begin testing vehicles with no backup drivers. 

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Fatality raises safety concerns

One of Uber’s autonomous cars

Automakers and tech companies are evaluating whether or not to suspend their autonomous vehicle programs in the aftermath of the first fatality involving a self-driving vehicle, an accident that has raised safety concerns. 

In reaction to the fatal accident involving an Uber autonomous vehicle, Arizona officials said they do not see an immediate need to modify rules on the testing of self-driving cars in the state.

On Tuesday, Arizona’s director for policy and communications at the state’s department of transportation, Kevin Biesty, said existing regulations were sufficient and that the state had no immediate plans to issue new rules.

“We believe we have enough in our laws right now to regulate automobiles,” Biesty told Reuters. “There will be issues that the legislature will have to address in the future as these become more widespread.”

Meanwhile, both Uber and Toyota Motor Corp said it will pause autonomous vehicle testing following the accident.

Toyota said the incident could have an “emotional effect” on its test drivers: “This ‘timeout’ is meant to give them time to come to a sense of balance about the inherent risks of their jobs.”

The fatal accident is drawing attention to questions about the safety of autonomous vehicle systems, and the challenges of testing them on public streets.

Self-driving cars have been involved in minor accidents, with nearly all of them being blamed on human motorists hitting the autonomous vehicle. 

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Uber moves down South

Ride-sharing company, Uber will expand into Dunedin and Queenstown in the next coming months.

Dunedin and Queenstown will be the sixth and seventh cities in New Zealand to accomodate the ride-sharing company. 

Uber New Zealand general manager Richard Menzies said Uber was exploring options to expand into Otago, almost four years after it was first made available in Auckland.

Locals would have the opportunity to earn extra income by signing up as drivers and the company would be holding information sessions next month, Mr Menzies said.

By expanding into the two locations, Uber was aiming to alleviate pressure on existing taxi services during weekends and major events like rugby games, he said.

Fares and pricing would be set closer to the launch date.

The San Francisco-based company will start advertising for drivers next week and information sessions will be held in Dunedin on April 11 and Queenstown on April 12.

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Self-driving Uber car kills pedestrian

One of Uber’s autonomous cars

In a historic first for the self-driving car industry, a woman in Arizona has died after being hit by a self-driving car, operated by Uber.

It is the first known death of a pedestrian struck by an autonomous vehicle on public roads.

The Uber vehicle was operating in autonomous mode with a human safety driver behind the wheel when it hit the woman.

The woman was crossing the street outside of a crosswalk, according to a statement from Tempe Police.

Uber said it had suspended testing of its self-driving cars in Tempe, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto.

“Our hearts go out to the victim’s family. We are fully cooperating with local authorities in their investigation of this incident,” an Uber spokeswoman, Sarah Abboud, said in a statement.

The fatal crash will most likely raise questions about regulations for self-driving cars. 

States are starting to allow companies to test cars without a safety person in the driver’s seat – this month, California said that, it would start allowing companies to test autonomous vehicles without anyone behind the wheel.

Arizona already allows self-driving cars to operate without a driver behind the wheel. The state has promised that it would help keep the driverless car industry free from regulation. Consequently, technology companies have flocked to Arizona to test their self-driving vehicles.

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Uber sells stake to Softbank

The deal is expected to support Uber’s technology investments, fuel their growth and strengthen their corporate governance.

Uber shareholders have agreed to sell a significant stake in the mobility service leader to an investor group led by Softbank Group Corp.

Softbank Group and other affiliated investors plan to purchase a minimum of 14 per cent of Uber at a price of around $33 a share.

Consequently, this puts the value of the ride-hailing company at around US$48 billion, a significant drop from the $70 billion valuation Uber had announced a year and a half ago.

“We look forward to working with the purchasers to close the overall transaction, which we expect to support our technology investments, fuel our growth and strengthen our corporate governance,” Matt Kallman, an Uber spokesman, said in a statement.

Tough times for Uber

The deal was part of a tender offer process initiated by SoftBank last month, which was a particularly bad time for the company. In November Uber disclosed that they had covered up a security breach that had comprised the personal data of around 57 million rider and driver accounts, including accounts in New Zealand.

Travis Kalanick also resigned in June as Uber’s chief executive. Since his resignation there has been a struggle for control of the company. Dara Khosrowshahi, former CEO of Expedia, became Uber’s new CEO in August, and said his top priority was ending the public fights between board members and Kalanick himself.

Both these incidents meant that Softbank was able to talk down the price of its investment.

While Softball made the most of the situation Uber was in, they promised investors they would cover the price difference for them if the final sale price came in over $33 a share. Furthermore, in order to bolster Uber’s value, SoftBank will also purchase up to $1.25 billion worth of new shares at the existing valuation of $67.5 billion.

Who is Softbank?

SoftBank is a  Japanese technology company, which could help Uber strike deals with competitors in India or Southeast Asia.

SoftBank is a major investor in Ola and Grab, Uber’s rivals in those regions.

What does the deal mean for Softbank and Uber?

The deal will make SoftBank one of Uber’s largest shareholders and comes with two board seats. It will also put in motion a slate of governance reforms that were dependent on the deal going through, which will expand the board to 17 and revoke outsize voting power given to early backers.

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Uber banned in Israel

Uber has been banned in Israel, according to local news sites.

Uber hit by new setback days after recently revealing huge data breach.

A judge said on Monday that the company does not have the appropriate insurance in place to operate in Israel.

Israel’s Transportation Ministry brought the case to court where they argued that Uber breaks the law by letting drivers charge passengers without a licence.

Uber Israel issued a statement following Monday’s ruling saying it was “committed to continuing co-operation with the authorities to determine how the technology can provide reliable, cost-effective and safe transportation solutions”.

Uber agreed that it would temporarily stop its operations but continue its licensed taxi service.

Uber has several other legal and regulatory battles going on around the world. In London, for example, it is fighting to get its operating licence renewed and appealing a court decision that said it must treat its UK drivers as workers and give them more rights.

The Tel Aviv District Court ordered the ban to go into effect on Wednesday.

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