- An Uber manager raised concerns about the safety of the company’s autonomous vehicle (AV) testing just days before one of the vehicles struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, AZ, according to a report in The Information. The manager, Robbie Miller, said that Uber self-driving cars were "routinely in accidents resulting in damage."
- Miller’s email, made public by The Information, charged that test vehicles were "hitting things every 15,000 miles,” and that backup drivers were having to take control every one to three miles. Miller cited several accidents that he said were not promptly investigated, including a collision and an incident where a car mounted and drove on the sidewalk.
- The email also criticized the company’s safety drivers, saying they are poorly trained and exhibit "poor behavior." It was later disclosed in a police report that the safety driver involved in the fatal collision was watching videos on her phone.
The Arizona crash last March made headlines and was a significant setback for the company’s plans to launch a self-driving taxi service. All testing was immediately halted amid a major safety review, and the taxi service was put on hold. By the time testing had resumed in July, public confidence in AV safety had been seriously diminished and remains mixed, even as more companies put cars on the road.
Among Miller's recommendations for improvement were better training for safety drivers and having more than one operator in the car. He also said that Uber could have cut its test fleet as much as 85% and still gotten the necessary safety data, while reducing the potential risk to the public.The Information points out that Uber had placed a high value on the number of miles driven, a metric also prized by other companies as a measure of safety.
It’s unclear if Miller was given more than a perfunctory response to the safety concerns, although The Verge reports Uber as saying that the concerns were “included in the top-to-bottom safety review that it conducted as a result of the fatal collision.” Miller has since left Uber.
The new disclosure could present more bad news for the scandal-plagued company ahead of its planned IPO in 2019, days after it filed confidential paperwork this month with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to start the process of going public. While the company has been valued at as much as $120 billion, there are still concerns about the viability of its self-driving unit; skepticism about a lack of attention to safety or the possibility of another crash could scare away some investors.