Consumers’ group wants Uber to publicize self-driving tests

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Uber has started to integrate self-driving Volvo XC90 cars into its Pittsburgh ride-hailing fleet this month, a noticeably large leap for a company that only started to work on autonomous cars last year.

Public interest group Consumer Watchdog is one of the many with eyebrows raised, and has called on Uber to be as transparent as possible with its self-driving tests.

Privacy project director John Simpson sent a letter to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, providing ten questions and four transparency requirements that echoed most of California’s self-driving laws.

Simpson said Uber must disclose all crashes, loss of control, and system failures, release technical data and videos of the crash, and provide a monthly report, similar to Google, that detail all activities, things the company learned or added, and miles driven.

It’s a comprehensive transparency request, but one that Uber doesn’t have to abide by, since its testing in Pennsylvania. The state currently has none of the self-driving laws California has introduced, meaning if Uber doesn’t want to disclose information, it doesn’t have to.

Still a compelling argument

That said, Simpson makes a compelling argument on why Uber should disclose information. In the letter he says: “Once you have opted to use public roads as your laboratory as you have done, you take on a moral obligation to be completely transparent.” This looks to be the rallying cry for Consumer Watchdog, if Uber refuses to disclose.

Here are Simpsons’  — shortened and edited — ten questions to Uber:

  1. Will you publish a complete list of real-life situations the cars cannot yet understand, and how you intend to deal with them?
  2. What do you envision happening if the computer “driver” suddenly goes offline with a passenger in the car, if the passenger has no control over the vehicle?
  3. Will you agree to publish its software algorithms, including how the company’s “artificial car intelligence” will function in a collision?
  4. Will you publish all video from the car and technical data such as radar and lidar reports associated with accidents or other anomalous situations? If not, why not?
  5. Will you publish all data in its possession that discusses, or makes projections concerning, the safety of driverless vehicles?
  6. Do you expect one of its cars will be involved in a fatal crash? If so, would you be held accountable?
  7. How will you prove that self-driving cars are safer than today’s vehicles?
  8. Will you agree not to store, market, sell, or transfer the data gathered by the car, or utilize it for any purpose other than navigating the vehicle?
  9. Do you have the technology to prevent malicious hackers from seizing control of a driverless vehicle or any of its systems?
  10. When do you expect to deploy and carry passengers in fully driverless cars without backup human drivers

The impact of consumer groups has yet to be felt in this booming new industry. It will be interesting to see Uber’s reaction.

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