According to internal documents seen by The New York Times, Uber’s self-driving cars ran six red lights in the short span of time that the company was shuttling customers around in autonomous vehicles in San Francisco, California.
The autonomous vehicle pilot program was announced suddenly in December and quickly drew controversy as the media noted that Uber wasn’t registered on the California DMV’s list of companies approved to test self-driving cars.
Documents obtained by The Verge through a public records request also showed that the California DMV had warned Uber for months prior to the launch of its pilot program that it would need an autonomous testing permit to drive on California’s roads.
Uber maintained that it didn’t need a permit to test its vehicles as they are not truly autonomous cars but simply cars with Advanced Driver Assist Systems (ADAS), which do not require a permit to drive in California. The California DMV countered that the vehicles were, in fact, autonomous under DMV standards, and the department ended up revoking registrations for Uber’s autonomous cars. Uber announced that it would stop its pilot program in San Francisco and take the program to Arizona.
If Uber had obtained an autonomous testing license under California’s guidelines, the company would have had to publicly report accidents as well as how often engineers testing the system had to disengage.
During the squabble between Uber and the California DMV, a video was posted in which an Uber self-driving car was seen driving through a red light at an intersection in San Francisco in front of the Museum of Modern Art. At the time, Uber spokesperson Chelsea Kohler stated that the incident was due to human error: “This is why we believe so much in making the roads safer by building self-driving Ubers.”
But the unnamed sources provided The New York Times with company documents noting that, “In this case, the car went through a red light,” and it did so on five other occasions.
“All told, the mapping programs used by Uber’s cars failed to recognize six traffic lights in the San Francisco area,” the Times wrote.
According to NYT, Kohler clarified on Friday: “Our self-driving technology required human intervention. The vehicle operator had time to intervene, but failed to take over before crossing the stop line and manually proceeded through the protected crosswalk.”
Ars contacted Uber for additional information, but the company has not responded.
Ars also contacted the Arizona DMV on the status of Uber’s pilot program within the state. The public information office responded with the statement: “ADOT works with Uber and other companies testing self-driving technology to create the most supportive environment possible while also promoting public safety.”
The revelations are more bad news for a company that just last week was slapped with a lawsuit from Waymo, (Google’s self-driving car division) that alleges Anthony Levandowski, a former Google autonomous car engineer and a current Uber engineer, stole company trade secrets and infringed a patent.