Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi says that the company plans to put self-driving cars back on the road "within the next few months". The transportation company suspended tests in March after one of its vehicles struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona. The incident is believed to be the first human death from an autonomous car.
Photo: In this 20 March 2018 photo provided by the National Transportation Safety Board, investigators examine a driverless Uber SUV that fatally struck a woman (National Transportation Safety Board via AP)
Speaking at the Uber Elevate summit in Los Angeles yesterday, Khosrowshahi was quick to point out that Uber proactively ceased its autonomous driving tests after the death, failing to mention that the state of Arizona also ordered Uber to stop the program.
"We have grounded our autonomous fleet, and that was a decision that we made," Khosrowshahi told Bloomberg News reporter Brad Stone, who then asked about when Uber would start testing self-driving cars again.
"It will be within the next few months... I don't know, and the time will be right when the time is right because we're doing a top to bottom safety review, both internally and with independent safety folks coming in to take a look at our culture, our practices, et cetera," Khosrowshahi said.
Khosrowshahi mentioned that Uber was working with its government partners, but didn't address specifically whether Uber had talked with the state of Arizona to get its program back up and running. Video from the crash went viral, and some disturbing reports have come out that claim Uber's sensors registered the woman who was killed as no more significant than a piece of trash.
Screenshot: The woman, 44-year-old Rafaela Vasquez, who was killed by an autonomous car in Tempe, Arizona on 18 March 2018 (Tempe Police)
Stone also asked the Uber CEO about the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) review that's currently taking place. Uber ceased tests in every city where it's experimenting with driverless cars, including Tempe, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto.
"We will not be tweeting ahead of their findings," Khosrowshahi said about the NTSB with a wry smile, a likely reference to Elon Musk's penchant for hostilely tweeting about NTSB reviews before the government issues a report.
Khosrowshahi was also asked about reports that internal corporate pressure at Uber caused engineers to move too quickly in an effort to impress the CEO, and whether that may have been a factor in the crash.
"You can't sacrifice safety. That's easy to say. There are trade-offs in life and I do think that you have to be aware of unintended consequences in everything that you do," said Khosrowshahi.
"And there's a balance. Which is, you want to push teams to be ambitious, you want to push teams to push them to innovate at the fringes. You want to get teams to be uncomfortable, but at the same time you really have to check ourself and go back to first principles and ask yourself, 'are we doing the right thing?' 'are we pushing too hard, and is it coming at the cost of safety?' and if it is, then you have to take a step back."
You can watch part of the interview on YouTube.