Uber has halted its self-driving care initiative after one of the company’s autonomous cars struck and killed a pedestrian on March 18 in Arizona. New York Times reporter Daisuke Wakabayashi said this week he thinks Uber’s self-driving car woes started long before the accident.
During Cheddar’s Morning Bell, Wakabayashi explained why the moment Uber decided to go up against the likes of Google’s self-driving car company, Waymo, in the autonomous car sector they were entering a losing battle.
“Part of it is just time. Waymo, or Google at the time, started in 2009 and they’ve been testing ever since. Uber didn’t start until 2016,” says Wakabayashi. “While it’s gotten easier to do some of this self-driving car stuff because there are more competent available, they’re years behind so they’re racing to catch up but it’s hard to make up a seven-year head start.”
The reporter uncovered that Uber’s autonomous vehicles “struggled” to travel 13 miles without a driver intervening, according to 100 pages of company documents and sources familiar with the operations. Waymo’s self-driving cars are reportedly able to drive 5,600 miles without drivers stepping in.
Despite this obvious technology gap, Wakabayashi says Uber continued testing their autonomous vehicles because of the potential reward if they were able to successfully outdo other companies.
“If you think about what percentage of the operating costs go to the driver it’s a substantial amount,” he explains. “If you could lower that cost substantially by making it autonomous then Uber goes from being the company that has lost the most money ever as a private company to become incredibly profitable.”
While Uber’s self-driving car program is frozen other companies, like Waymo, will likely take advantage of the fact that demand for autonomous cars is booming across the United States.