Weekly Brief: Uber halts self-driving car fleet after Arizona crash

Driverless car crash shows embattled Uber is in no place to take a risk. Andrew Tolve reports

Uber’sepically bad 2017 continued last week when one of its self-driving cars crashed and rolled over onto its side in Tempe, Arizona, causing the embattled company to temporarily suspend its autonomous vehicle programme. Thankfully there were no passengers in the vehicle at the time and neither of the two Uber engineers nor the other driver were hurt but the incident still grabbed headlines around the world, keeping a negative spotlight on the ride-sharing giant and casting doubts over the self-driving car movement.

Unlike Uber’s other mishaps this year, however, of which there have been plenty including accusations of cyber theft from Google’s Waymo, allegations of misogyny and discrimination from employees, the #deleteUber movement, this one appears to be innocent. Initial police reports suggest the accident occurred over which vehicle had the right of way. Yet, the accident remains a stark reminder that self-driving cars can, and will, inevitably get into accidents and some of them serious in nature.

Currently, human error is the reason there are so many lethal car accidents each year and hence the reason the transition to the self-driving car era will likely be more dangerous than a fully realised autonomous future. The impact of this ‘twilight zone’ is already becoming evident with fatal accidents in the US, now running at 40,000 a year, are on the rise as cars become more connected, drivers more distracted, despite these vehicles being safer than ever before.

In other news, the California Air Resources Board made President Donald Trump’s bad week worse when it unanimously voted to continue with the vehicle greenhouse gas emission standards and zero-emission vehicle programme for cars and light trucks sold in California through 2025. The action ensures that it, and 12 other states that follow its vehicle regulations together accounting for a third of the US auto market, will move forward greenhouse gas emission standards adopted in the 2012 process involving the federal government, California and the automakers. This flies in the face of Trump’s order to review these standards in the hope of easing regulations. No doubt this will be a boon for EVs in California and beyond.

Voice assistants are all the rage in 2017 and they’re coming to connected cars fast. Ford already revealed that it has integrating Amazon Alexa into its SYNC 3 infotainment system later this year. Now Starbucks has come out and announced that Ford drivers in SYNC 3-enabled vehicles will be able to order their coffee straight from their cars with a simple command: “Alexa, ask Starbucks to start my order.” The feature is part of Starbucks’ Mobile Order & Pay platform.

Microsoft Cortanais likely to make an appearance in Toyota vehicles soon that’s because Microsoft announced last week that it has licensed its patented connected-vehicle technologies to the Japanese automaker. The two companies were mum on exactly which technologies Toyota will use but they include the Cortana voice recognition software, along with Wi-Fi, motion sensors and in-car data storage and transfer.

Verizonis expanding its aftermarket tracking and roadside assistance offering, Hum. US customers will now have a choice between three tiers, with the premium HumX offering WiFi hotspot capability for up to 10 devices along with support for HD voice and a mobile app to complement the service. The core set of Hum features like auto health and diagnostics, driving history, boundary and speed alerts and vehicle location will now be known as Hum+. The device plugs into the OBD-II port or snaps onto the car’s sun visor.

In 2013Nissanlaunched a car-sharing scheme in Yokohoma becoming the first town to boast this service in Japan involving exclusively one-way trips. Now the service has been extended to provide round trip car-sharing and includes 25 ultra-compact electric vehicles which users can take and return to any of 14 locations, at a fee of 250 yen per 15 minutes.

Finally, US senators reintroduced the Security and Privacy in Your Car (SPY Car) Act, which directs the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration andthe Federal Trade Commission to establish federal standards to secure American cars and protect drivers’ privacy. It also mandates the establishment of a rating system – or “cyber dashboard” – that informs consumers about how well the vehicle protects drivers’ security and privacy beyond those minimum standards. Senators Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) are spearheading the legislation.

The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU-Automotive analysis with information from industry sources.

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