Brad Leach | Mar 22, 2017

Documents obtained by Recode show Uber’s fleet of autonomous cars in various North American locations (mostly in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania and Phoenix, Arizona) are proving to be…well not completely autonomous.

The cars do have a driver behind the wheel and, for example, during the week which ended on 8 March, those drivers of the 43 cars in use assumed control on average once every 1.3kms.

Recode reports those driver interventions include ‘critical’ (where the driver has assumed control to avoid pedestrians or a situation which may cause damage), ‘bad experiences’ (jerky driving or hard braking which may be uncomfortable for passengers) as well as the predicted situations involving bad weather or where road markings are unclear.

Drivers also intervene more often when the cars travel to new locations and need to navigate around previously ‘unlearned’ objects or road markings.

However in that same week, those cars covered 32,566kms in 930 rides in Pittsburg and 150 in Phoenix – this is only the second time since December they have exceeded 32,000kms in a week. In the last month, around 800 or more UberX rides in semi-autonomous operation have occurred each week in Pittsburg.

And the average distance between ‘critical’ interventions has improved – now averaging 320kms.

One road – Scottsdale Road in Arizona - is proving to be a trouble hotspot and Uber told Recode it is evaluating whether there are bugs to be ironed-out or if that road is just unsuitable for autonomous driving.

For Uber, the ultimate advantage of autonomous operation is greater profitability – no drivers to pay mean the company would pocket 100 per-cent of each fare.

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