Uber plans to resume testing self-driving cars on public roads eight months after a fatal crash, but new allegations related to that crash are now being reported. According to The Information, an employee warned of problems with Uber's autonomous-driving tech days before a car struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona.
According to the report, Robbie Miller, a manager in the self-driving car program's testing operations group, sent an email to multiple Uber executives and lawyers warning that test cars were "routinely in accidents resulting in damage. This is usually the result of poor behavior of the operator or the AV technology."
Miller allegedly referenced an incident in Pittsburgh in which a prototype autonomous car swerved off the road and onto a sidewalk. Miller's email said the incident was "essentially ignored" for days until Miller raised it to the attention of other managers. The email also said that it took two weeks to investigate an incident that took place toward the end of 2017, in which an Uber test car nearly collided with another vehicle.
"This is not how we should be operating," Miller wrote in the email. He reportedly suggested ways to improve safety, including reducing the size of the test fleet, adding multiple human backup drivers to each vehicle, and allowing lower-level employees to shut down testing if they felt there was a safety issue. Miller's email was reportedly ignored by executives, and he left the company three days after sending it.
Uber did not directly respond to The Information regarding the allegations, but released a more general statement:
"The entire team is focused on safely and responsibly returning to the road in self-driving mode. We have every confidence in the work that the team is doing to get us there."
The Arizona crash is the first known fatality involving a self-driving car. Tempe police subsequently found that the human backup driver was streaming television on her phone during the crash. Uber withdrew its cars after the crash but has recently discussed resuming testing in Pittsburgh. Cars are expected to operate on a one-mile loop between two Uber offices in the city, with a speed limit of 25 miles per hour. However, Uber hasn't received permission from Pennsylvania authorities for even this limited testing program.