For once, Uber takes it up the tailpipe: Robo-ride gets rear-ended

First California accident, caused by inconsiderate human

The Uber self-driving program has had its first accident in California since regaining permission to experiment on the roads – and for a change, it wasn't Uber's fault.

According to an accident report [PDF] filed with the San Francisco Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), the Uber car – a Volvo XC90 – was waiting to turn right across a busy road in the Inner Richmond district in San Francisco when it was hit from behind.

The Uber vehicle had stopped on Geary Boulevard to turn onto 3rd Street and was waiting for pedestrians to cross – a common event in bustling San Francisco. The Uber operator had even disengaged the self-driving system (presumably to avoid the risk of running down people) when a Toyota Tacoma rear-ended it.

It doesn't sound like a big collision: Uber reported only "minor damage" to the Volvo but it was enough to cause "wrist discomfort" to the co-pilot. They didn't call the police and no injuries were reported. The crash happened on August 16 at 2:55pm and was reported on Friday.

However, Uber has to be careful given its testing status with the DMV and the fact that people remain understandably cautious about huge chunks of metal being moved around at great speed by computers.

Uber is on thin ice with the California authorities, despite the state leading the way with self-driving technology. Back in December, the DMV revoked the registrations of 16 Uber self-driving cars after the company decided it didn't need to apply for a permit to let its computer drive around San Francisco. Turns out it did.

Not only that, but the company's cars were failing to understand and respond legally to bike lanes, presumably because the software engineers hadn't thought about that.

Freaking out

We also now know from texts sent between former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and its former head of self-driving tech Anthony Levandowski that the Palo Alto DMV in Silicon Valley was also very nervous about self-driving truck tests that were being carried out by Levandowski's Ottomotto, prior to the company being bought by Uber.

"Just wrapped with the DMV, it was the city of Palo Alto freaking out about AV trucks testing and were asked to investigate. The guys were happy with our answers and we're in the clear," Levandowski texted.

The intersection in San Francisco where the accident happened earlier this month

Despite claims that self-driving technology will ultimately save thousands of lives (because a lot of humans are, frankly, terrible drivers), and despite some lawmakers going to bat for the very large tech companies racing to perfect the technology, the fact remains that people are very skeptical about the idea.

And for good reason. When Uber was booted out of California, it moved its testing to Arizona. Soon after, one of its cars got involved in a crash in which it was T-boned at an intersection and ended up on its side.

Uber claimed it wasn't its fault – it was driving under the speed limit and had done nothing wrong. Except an investigation into the crash revealed that the Uber went through a yellow light at 38mph (in a 40mph zone). The Uber Volvo SUV was hit as it crossed an intersection by an oncoming car that was turning left.

It was legal, but one witness said that it was the Uber car's fault for "trying to beat the light and hitting the gas so hard." And another said that the car had come "flying through the intersection."


And that is the key distinction: where a human driver would typically exercise caution, even if they were legally in the right, a computer follows the rules it has been programmed with.

The hope is that with thousands of hours of testing, the self-driving programs will build up sufficient knowledge of different scenarios to drive more safely than human drivers.

The big question is: where do we allow the cut-off? When a self-driving car is better than the average human driver? Or do we need a higher standard for computer-driven cars? And how do we measure that?

Of course, while Uber is playing things safe and getting hit by other cars, Tesla is somewhat arrogantly insisting that the death of one driver thanks to its systems' failing wasn't its fault because the human driver didn't notice the truck either.

And then there was the curious case of the crash where the driver decided that auto-pilot wasn't actually on when he had previously told the authorities it was. It had nothing to do with the phone call he'd had with Tesla in between. ®

Broader topics

Narrower topics

Other stories you might like

  • Demand for PC and smartphone chips drops 'like a rock' says CEO of China’s top chipmaker
    Markets outside China are doing better, but at home vendors have huge component stockpiles

    Demand for chips needed to make smartphones and PCs has dropped "like a rock" – but mostly in China, according to Zhao Haijun, the CEO of China's largest chipmaker Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC).

    Speaking on the company's Q1 2022 earnings call last Friday, Zhao said smartphone makers currently have five months inventory to hand, so are working through that stockpile before ordering new product. Sales of PCs, consumer electronics and appliances are also in trouble, the CEO said, leaving some markets oversupplied with product for now. But unmet demand remains for silicon used for Wi-Fi 6, power conversion, green energy products, and analog-to-digital conversion.

    Zhao partly attributed sales slumps to the Ukraine war which has made the Russian market off limits to many vendors and effectively taken Ukraine's 44 million citizens out of the global market for non-essential purchases.

    Continue reading
  • Colocation consolidation: Analysts look at what's driving the feeding frenzy
    Sometimes a half-sized shipping container at the base of a cell tower is all you need

    Analysis Colocation facilities aren't just a place to drop a couple of servers anymore. Many are quickly becoming full-fledged infrastructure-as-a-service providers as they embrace new consumption-based models and place a stronger emphasis on networking and edge connectivity.

    But supporting the growing menagerie of value-added services takes a substantial footprint and an even larger customer base, a dynamic that's driven a wave of consolidation throughout the industry, analysts from Forrester Research and Gartner told The Register.

    "You can only provide those value-added services if you're big enough," Forrester research director Glenn O'Donnell said.

    Continue reading
  • D-Wave deploys first US-based Advantage quantum system
    For those that want to keep their data in the homeland

    Quantum computing outfit D-Wave Systems has announced availability of an Advantage quantum computer accessible via the cloud but physically located in the US, a key move for selling quantum services to American customers.

    D-Wave reported that the newly deployed system is the first of its Advantage line of quantum computers available via its Leap quantum cloud service that is physically located in the US, rather than operating out of D-Wave’s facilities in British Columbia.

    The new system is based at the University of Southern California, as part of the USC-Lockheed Martin Quantum Computing Center hosted at USC’s Information Sciences Institute, a factor that may encourage US organizations interested in evaluating quantum computing that are likely to want the assurance of accessing facilities based in the same country.

    Continue reading
  • Bosses using AI to hire candidates risk discriminating against disabled applicants
    US publishes technical guide to help organizations avoid violating Americans with Disabilities Act

    The Biden administration and Department of Justice have warned employers using AI software for recruitment purposes to take extra steps to support disabled job applicants or they risk violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

    Under the ADA, employers must provide adequate accommodations to all qualified disabled job seekers so they can fairly take part in the application process. But the increasing rollout of machine learning algorithms by companies in their hiring processes opens new possibilities that can disadvantage candidates with disabilities. 

    The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the DoJ published a new document this week, providing technical guidance to ensure companies don't violate ADA when using AI technology for recruitment purposes.

    Continue reading
  • How ICE became a $2.8b domestic surveillance agency
    Your US tax dollars at work

    The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has spent about $2.8 billion over the past 14 years on a massive surveillance "dragnet" that uses big data and facial-recognition technology to secretly spy on most Americans, according to a report from Georgetown Law's Center on Privacy and Technology.

    The research took two years and included "hundreds" of Freedom of Information Act requests, along with reviews of ICE's contracting and procurement records. It details how ICE surveillance spending jumped from about $71 million annually in 2008 to about $388 million per year as of 2021. The network it has purchased with this $2.8 billion means that "ICE now operates as a domestic surveillance agency" and its methods cross "legal and ethical lines," the report concludes.

    ICE did not respond to The Register's request for comment.

    Continue reading
  • Fully automated AI networks less than 5 years away, reckons Juniper CEO
    You robot kids, get off my LAN

    AI will completely automate the network within five years, Juniper CEO Rami Rahim boasted during the company’s Global Summit this week.

    “I truly believe that just as there is this need today for a self-driving automobile, the future is around a self-driving network where humans literally have to do nothing,” he said. “It's probably weird for people to hear the CEO of a networking company say that… but that's exactly what we should be wishing for.”

    Rahim believes AI-driven automation is the latest phase in computer networking’s evolution, which began with the rise of TCP/IP and the internet, was accelerated by faster and more efficient silicon, and then made manageable by advances in software.

    Continue reading
  • Pictured: Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way
    We speak to scientists involved in historic first snap – and no, this isn't the M87*

    Astronomers have captured a clear image of the gigantic supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy for the first time.

    Sagittarius A*, or Sgr A* for short, is 27,000 light-years from Earth. Scientists knew for a while there was a mysterious object in the constellation of Sagittarius emitting strong radio waves, though it wasn't really discovered until the 1970s. Although astronomers managed to characterize some of the object's properties, experts weren't quite sure what exactly they were looking at.

    Years later, in 2020, the Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to a pair of scientists, who mathematically proved the object must be a supermassive black hole. Now, their work has been experimentally verified in the form of the first-ever snap of Sgr A*, captured by more than 300 researchers working across 80 institutions in the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration. 

    Continue reading
  • Shopping for malware: $260 gets you a password stealer. $90 for a crypto-miner...
    We take a look at low, low subscription prices – not that we want to give anyone any ideas

    A Tor-hidden website dubbed the Eternity Project is offering a toolkit of malware, including ransomware, worms, and – coming soon – distributed denial-of-service programs, at low prices.

    According to researchers at cyber-intelligence outfit Cyble, the Eternity site's operators also have a channel on Telegram, where they provide videos detailing features and functions of the Windows malware. Once bought, it's up to the buyer how victims' computers are infected; we'll leave that to your imagination.

    The Telegram channel has about 500 subscribers, Team Cyble documented this week. Once someone decides to purchase of one or more of Eternity's malware components, they have the option to customize the final binary executable for whatever crimes they want to commit.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022