The recent Uber incident brings to light, a number of issues that have been sorely neglected in the race to be first in autonomous vehicle technology. Bragging rights have been dealt a severe blow and a reality check has emerged.
Don’t get me wrong, I think that, one day, autonomous vehicles will rule the road – that is a given. However, the autonomous vehicle soapbox upon which I stand and what I shout out, often, is “it cannot happen with sensors alone.” I have long said, consistently, that level 5 autonomous vehicles cannot happen until vehicles can communicate with all things within their environment, and vice versa.
Because of this, there is going to be a significant amount of fallout. Forensics will be taking a very close look at the technologies employed and vendors will feel the pressure as well.
Uber, of course, took the full force of the mishap. And rightly so. There has been innuendo that Uber has been rushing and taking shortcuts to get these things on the road and compromising safety. It has, basically, had its wings clipped. Much, if not all, of its testing will cease for the immediate future, at a minimum, until all of the investigations are finished.
Another casualty is Nvidia, which was doing a lot of chest thumping about its autonomous car chips and platforms, in which it has invested. However, there is no real reason for Nvidia to stop autonomous car testing, except that it can take a breather from the cost of doing so and save a bit of money. I think they are running a bit scared for the moment. Additionally, its stock has taken a 7.5 percent, plus hit over this.
A startup by the name of Ouster, is also sweating. Ouster is a LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) vendor, and there are questions about the reliability of LIDAR after the incident. LIDAR’s role in autonomous vehicles is going under the microscope. There are serious questions why the vehicles LIDAR didn’t sense the pedestrian.
Much of this is knee jerking as is often the case when something like this occurs. However, this is not a failure in a manned rocket ship to mars, or the newest nuclear weapon which can be catastrophic. It is a major failure in a new technology, but only one of several – and not the first fatality.
There is definitely reason to stop and reassess. But Arizona’s banning of self-driving cars until further notice is uncalled for. Uber already stopped the testing so Arizona’s governor decided to chest thump and get some publicity – capitalize on the drama that politicians love. Here is what he said in 2016, “Arizona welcomes Uber self-driving cars with wide open arms.” My how things change when there is a bump in the road.
California was a bit more reasonable. They simply sat down with Uber, which agreed not to reapply for a California DMV permit with the understanding that Uber vehicles would not operate on public roads in the immediate future. But California left the door open.
Boston suspended, then reinstated testing privileges for self-driving vehicles. This, after conducting a safety review in the aftermath of the Uber crash and finding those companies were in compliance with city standards. A much more reasonable approach.
However, like the stock market, this technology was due for a correction. The hype and acceleration within this segment was outstripping the technology. The hype was making is seem that we were already there, just needed a bit of tweaking.
The Uber incident slammed us back to earth. Now there are many voices questioning the maturity of the technology, the reliability of the hardware and software, and the safety of the technology as a whole. It is a good time to take a step back, take a good look at the industry, the technology and its implementation.
I think a quote from Lyft president John Zimmer says it all. “No one should take shortcuts and no one should put out technology before it is ready.”
That talks to a lot of industries. It is just a shame that it took another life to bring about that reality check to autonomous vehicles.