SANTA MONICA, CA – Consumer Watchdog today called on Uber to release information about testing its robot cars in Arizona after pulling them out of San Francisco and to answer 10 questions about its vision for self-driving vehicles.
In a letter to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director John M. Simpson wrote:
“Consumer Watchdog believes you opted to pick up your toys and move because you wanted to keep important information about your robot car testing secret. We would welcome your proving our conclusion to be incorrect, by making public important information about your robot car activities. Using public highways as your laboratory carries the obligation of telling the public what you are doing.”
Read Consumer Watchdog’s letter here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/ltrkalanick010417.pdf
Consumer Watchdog noted that had Uber obtained a testing permit in California, the company would have been required to report any crashes of its robot cars to the Department of Motor Vehicles and to file annual disengagement reports, explaining when the robot car turned control over to the test driver and when the test driver felt it necessary to intervene. This information is essential to understanding the state of the robot car technology, the nonpartisan, nonprofit public interest group said. Google’s 2015 disengagement report, for example, shows its self-driving technology failed 341 times, 272 times when the software relinquished control to the test driver and 69 times when the test driver opted to intervene.
“Will you commit to making such information public? Specifically, Uber should issue reports of all accidents when they occur and a monthly disengagement report that gives the miles driven in self-driving mode, the number of times the software turned over control to the test driver and the number of times the test driver felt compelled to intervene,” wrote Simpson. “Certainly, Uber is compiling such data. Why are you afraid to release it?”
Consumer Watchdog said that beyond Uber’s obligation to explain what it’s doing on public highways, releasing the data would certainly be to the company’s own advantage. A 2016 American Automobile Association poll found that three-quarters of Americans say they are afraid to ride in a self-driving car. Being candid about the technology and its capabilities will in the long run assure the public that robot cars are safe if the information shows that to be the case, Consumer Watchdog said.
“It’s in Uber’s self-interest to be candid about what you are doing so that you build trust in your activities. Without trust, people will not adopt and use robot car technology,” wrote Simpson. “Candor is also required if you are at all serious about a public stock offering. Consumer Watchdog cannot understand what you have to hide.”
Besides monthly reports about Uber’s testing activities, the public is entitled to know more about its overall approach to robot cars, Consumer Watchdog said. The group posed ten questions to Uber last September as it began testing self-driving cars in Pittsburgh. So far the questions have not answered, so Consumer Watchdog asked them again. They are:
1. We understand self-driving cars cannot currently handle many common occurrences on the road, including heavy rain or snow, hand signals from a traffic cop, or gestures to communicate from other drivers. Will Uber publish a complete list of real-life situations the cars cannot yet understand, and how you intend to deal with them?
2. What does Uber envision happening if the computer “driver” suddenly goes offline with a passenger in the car, if the car has no steering wheel or pedals and the passenger cannot steer or stop the vehicle?
3. Your programmers will literally make life and death decisions as they write the vehicles’ algorithms. Will Uber agree to publish its software algorithms, including how the company’s “artificial car intelligence” will be programmed to decide what happens in the event of a potential collision? For instance, will Uber’s robot car prioritize the safety of the occupants of the vehicle or pedestrians it encounters?
4. Will Uber publish all video from the car and technical data such as radar and lidar reports associated with accidents or other anomalous situations? If not, why not?
5. Will Uber publish all data in its possession that discusses, or makes projections concerning, the safety of driverless vehicles?
6. Does Uber expect one of your robot cars to be involved in a fatal crash? If your robot car causes the crash, how would Uber be held accountable?
7. How will Uber prove that self-driving cars are safer than today’s vehicles?
8. Will Uber agree not to store, market, sell, or transfer the data gathered by the self-driving car robot car, or utilize it for any purpose other than navigating the vehicle?
9. Does Uber have the technology to prevent malicious hackers from seizing control of a driverless vehicle or any of its systems?
10. When does Uber expect to deploy and carry passengers in fully autonomous, self-driving robot cars without backup human drivers?
Consumer Watchdog’s letter concluded:
“Picking up your toys and moving is not an appropriate response from a serious company. Consumer Watchdog hopes you will prove our conclusion about your motives incorrect and start providing monthly reports about your robot car testing activity including miles driven, crashes and disengagements. Answering our ten questions will help the public fully understand what Uber is attempting to do and the risks that are involved. Full transparency about your planned self-driving robot car testing activities is the only acceptable approach, particularly if you plan a public stock offering.”
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