By on October 31, 2019

Uber has formed an independent board tasked with overseeing its autonomous vehicle program. As outsiders, they’ll have no official authority within the company. But the six-member group will have direct access to executive years, and will be using them to advise the business on how best to test and deploy new technologies.

Dubbed the Self-Driving Safety and Responsibility Board, the group was formed after one of Uber’s test vehicles struck and killed a pedestrian in March 2018. An external review commissioned by the company following the incident recommended the board’s formation, with support from the NHTSA. 

According to Automotive News, the committee’s makeup was recently finalized:

Board members include Shailen Bhatt, president of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America; Adrian Lund, former president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety; Victoria Nneji, robotics fellow and assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Duke University.

Also on the board is physician and former NHTSA chief Jeffrey Runge, now president of Biologue Inc., a North Carolina biodefense and medical preparedness consulting firm.

Rounding out the panel are two members who bring an aviation-minded perspective that Uber wanted on the board: David Carbaugh, former chief pilot of flight operations safety at Boeing, and George Snyder, president of GHS Aviation Group.

Roughly a year ago, the law firm LeClairRyan issued a report recommending Uber adopt some of the practices in place at the Federal Aviation Administration — as it has a few autonomous protocols already on the books. Among the tools the ride-hailing business adopted was a new way for employees to submit safety concerns, modeled from the Aviation Safety Reporting Program.

While Uber definitely wants to ensure safer testing in the future, this is also a bit of damage control. Shortly before the fatal crash in Tempe, AZ, from March of 2018, manager Robbie Miller had tried to tell the company its test mules were underperforming. In an email to his superiors, Miller reported that the firm’s AVs were “routinely in accidents resulting in damage” while expressed fears over the preparedness of the company’s safety drivers.

“We believe that this panel of outside industry experts will offer valuable independent advice as Uber ATG leads the safe development and deployment of self-driving technology,” Uber said in a statement. It also noted that board findings and recommendations will not be made public. While we’d prefer having a pipeline into those discussions, it’s understandable the business doesn’t want to air its dirty laundry.


[Image: MikeDotta/Shutterstock]

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8 Comments on “Uber Establishes Oversight Board for Self-driving Development...”

  • avatar

    I don’t see why this is needed… His Miskiness is going to have Full Self Driving capability any week now! He can simply show the rest of us how it’s done, while Tesla owners take in the bucks renting them out as autonomous taxis!

  • avatar

    Can someone explain to me why autonomous vehicles are so theoretically profitable for Uber? Yes, right now they are paying for drivers. However, they are NOT paying for the cost of vehicles, insurance on them, or maintenance on said vehicles. The costs of the technology and equipment to make the vehicles autonomous would be in addition to the above.

    Further, currently as business expands or contracts, Uber can expand or contract with no changing in operating costs. They do not hire drivers (they allow qualified contractors access to their systems in return for a share of profits) nor do they lay any off (When drivers find participating to not be profitable enough, they quit participating).

    Buying and maintaining a fleet would add enormously to their fixed costs, including personnel as people would have to be hired to clean and maintain the vehicles.

    Now, seriously, I must be wrong as they are actively pursuing this. I would appreciate the minds here explaining what I’m missing.


    • 0 avatar

      Remember that when there are no drivers they will also get to keep 100% of the revenue. Right now they get something like one-third of it.

      Even if robot cars happen, though, prices are going to need to go up from what they are today for Uber to be sustainable.

    • 0 avatar

      I think you’re absolutely correct on all points. But Uber is pursuing a story, they need a story to stay in business. Uber is structurally unprofitable, like a famous EV car maker, so to keep the story going they need a new chapter about the Next Big Thing. So driverless vehicles will be the thing that makes them profitable. Of course when you apply a little common sense and dig into the details you see that it’s not quite so easy. Details! How dry and boring! Don’t be such a kill joy!!!

  • avatar
    R Henry

    As Wozniak and others have admitted, Level 5 autonomy is a pipe dream in today’s technological environment. Neither sufficient software nor hardware exists, in even in conceptual form, to achieve Level 5.

    Uber can seat all the bright lights it wants on whatever advisory board it decides to create, but they cannot change technological reality.

  • avatar

    The Uber accident did more to damage the image of robot cars than any other thing that has happened. The reason for the damage was not so much that the accident happened as that it was so clearly the result of shoddy cost-cutting efforts and lack of attention to safety. This is too little, too late. I trust that Waymo has safety in mind. I won’t trust Uber about that for years, if ever.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree that Uber’s poor attitude toward safety doesn’t help things, but a crazy lady shooting out of bushes on a dark curve was the primary cause of the accident.

      • 0 avatar

        Had either (1) the Uber car’s safety systems been as good as the stock Volvo systems that were disabled or (2) the safety driver been paying attention instead of on her phone, the crash would have been avoided. (The car’s log showed that the stock system recognized her and, had it been functional, would have initiated a braking event.)

        Pedestrians are not always of sound mind and are not always going to do predictable things. Robot cars need to avoid them if physically possible. In this instance it was easily physically possible – full panic braking wouldn’t have even been necessary.

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