Uber's self-driving software fails about once per mile

March 21, 2017

Remember how Uber launched a fleet of self-driving vehicles in San Francisco last December, and the California Department of Motor Vehicles flipped out because the company hadn't applied for the proper $150 permit and shut down the program within a week?

Turns out, the DMV was right to be concerned. Documents obtained by Recode show that Uber's self-driving software is still very much in beta. In fact, the system glitches about once per mile. 

Disappointing data

The internal data acquired from Uber's self-driving software team details stats gathered from fleets in Arizona, California, and Pennsylvania. While those cars are logging increasingly more miles with every passing month, the software doesn't seem to be improving much.

In January of this year, Uber's fleet of autonomous cars drove about 5,000 miles per week, mostly in Pittsburgh. Earlier this month, that figure had risen sharply to more than 20,000 miles per week. 

However, the rate of disengagement--that is, the rate at which human drivers had to take control of the vehicles--has remained roughly the same: about once per mile

Based on stats submitted to California's DMV, Uber is performing slightly better than Bosch, but not as well as Mercedes-Benz, which experiences disengagements about once every two miles. 

It's also far, far behind Waymo, whose cars travel more than 5,200 miles between disengagements. 

Uber's performance is a little ironic, since the company's CEO, Travis Kalanick, tried to argue with California's DMV that its vehicles were no more self-driving than a Tesla equipped with Autopilot. However (1) Tesla clearly played by the book and applied for a testing permit in California, and (2) Tesla is performing about three times as well as Uber, with disengagements around once every three miles. 

Upside

The good news is, Uber is doing better where critical disengagements are concerned (i.e. disengagements caused by serious events that could result in crashes, injuries, or worse). The company's cars now travel about 200 miles between such incidents.

Those stats should improve as Uber incorporates technology from its new subsidiary, Otto--unless of course Otto's founder is found guilty of stealing proprietary technology, or unless Uber implodes due to a never-ending series of unpleasant revelations and high-profile departures

We can't wait for the miniseries. 

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