Making Science

Uber suspends self-driving fleet after crash in Arizona

Tim Maytom

Uber has suspended its autonomous car pilot scheme, grounding all vehicles while it investigates a crash in Arizona that involved one of its self-driving cars. Initial police reports suggest the collision was the fault of the other vehicle involved, rather than a malfunction by the Uber vehicle, but the company has removed its self-driving cars from the road in Arizona, Pennsylvania and California while a more thorough investigation is carried out.

While there were no serious injuries as a result of the accident, photographs posted online show the Uber Technologies vehicle, a Volvo SUV, lying on its side next to another badly damaged car. The Uber car was carrying two engineers in the front at the time of the accident, and no backseat passengers, but it has not yet been disclosed if the car was in self-driving mode at the time.

A spokesperson for the police in Tempe, Arizona has said that the accident happened when the other vehicle involved “failed to yield” to the Uber car at a left turn. “There was a person behind the wheel,” said Sergeant Josie Montenegro, media relations and public information officer for Tempe Police Department. “It is uncertain at this time if they were controlling the vehicle at the time of the collision.”

The accident is not the first time self-driving vehicles have been involved in collisions. Last year, an autonomous vehicle operated by Google struck a bus while attempting to navigate around an obstacle during a test in Mountain View, California, and a driver of a Tesla Motors Model S was killed while the car was operating in autopilot mode following a collision with a truck in Williston, Florida.

While the initial reports seem to suggest that the accident was not the fault of Uber’s self-driving technology, the collision comes at a difficult time for the company, which has seen a number of high level executives depart in recent months, and has been hounded by criticism over workplace ethics, sexual harassment and a “toxic” corporate culture.