By Eric Weisbrot – special to theAJOT
Uber has been a pioneer technology giant in the transportation space since its quiet start several years ago. Giving consumers the ability to schedule pickups with a few simple clicks and empowering thousands to generate income just from driving from one place to the next had many impressed with the technology company. And the most recent trajectory of Uber’s self-driving vehicles pushed the company profile even further ahead of competitors. But in the last few weeks, Uber has taken the spotlight for a different reason.
In Arizona, a woman crossing the street was struck by an Uber self-driving vehicle; she passed away after being transported to the local hospital. The incident represents the first fatality linked to an autonomous vehicle in the company’s history, but it is not the first instance of an accident altogether. Uber self-driving cars have been connected to at least one other road incident although there were no serious injuries as a result. Tesla and similar technology firms working on self-driving vehicle programs have been widely criticized for similar issues from road user advocacy groups and government bodies. Based on the pedestrian’s death, Uber faces some grave challenges in moving its self-driving freight business forward.
The Current State of Affairs
Almost immediately after the incident, Uber halted its operations of self-driving vehicles in all locations, including San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Phoenix, and Toronto. Spokespersons have passed along sincere apologies to the family of the victim and claimed the company is working to improve its autonomous programs in light of the incident. While the direct-to-consumer self-driving initiatives have taken an obvious hit, it is difficult to gauge how the freight side of the business will be impacted in the coming months.
Uber Freight, created on the back of the company’s vast success, intends to take away the need for an intermediary in the freight business. Instead of licensed freight brokers connecting shippers and suppliers, the company allows these parties to connect via an app. Uber Freight recently introduced a self-driving truck component to the platform, with the technology enabling the truck carrying goods to operate on its own for long stretches of highway driving. A human operator is still included in the mix for pick-up and delivery, but the addition of the driverless aspect of the process is meant to streamline operations while reducing costs.
The Future of Autonomous Vehicles in Freight
After the news of the fatal accident in Arizona, many are unsure where Uber is headed with its self-driving programs in both the consumer and freight divisions. Other companies are testing self-driving trucks in a similar fashion, but they have yet to introduce the platform in full to potential commercial customers. Part of the delay correlates to reluctance in the marketplace, with many preferring to leave the act of driving to humans with instincts as opposed to computers with algorithms and sensors. Even though the addition of autonomous vehicles in freight has the potential to reduce costs and create more efficient runs, the latest news combined with lacking confidence in the market means fleets of self-driving trucks are still likely years away.
Editor’s Note: Eric Weisbrot is the Chief Marketing Officer of JW Surety Bonds. With years of experience in the surety industry under several different roles within the company, he is also a contributing author to the surety bond blog.