Uber’s decision to bring self-driving taxis to the streets of Pittsburgh this week is raising alarms among a swath of safety experts who say that the technology is not nearly ready for prime time.
The unprecedented experiment will launch even though Pennsylvania has yet to pass basic laws that permit the testing of self-driving cars or rules that would govern what would happen in a crash. Uber is also not required to pass along any data from its vehicles to regulators.
Meanwhile, researchers note, autonomous cars have been thrown off by bridges, a particular problem in Pittsburgh, which has more bridges than any other major U.S. city.
“They are essentially making the commuters the guinea pigs,” said Joan Claybrook, a consumer-protection advocate and former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “Of course there are going to be crashes. You can do the exact same tests without having average citizens in your car.”
But advocates of autonomous vehicles say that the technology might never have happened if companies had to wait for governments to pass rules first. With nearly 37,000 Americans dying in car crashes every year, largely because of driver errors, technologists have stressed the critical need to push forward on testing driverless cars on public roads.
In many ways, these competing views, brought into stark relief by Uber’s Pittsburgh project, reflect the wider tension over how innovation in America should take place.
Pittsburgh might be the exact environment that innovators love to leap into — a legal void that can be defined by technologists, not bureaucrats. The question is how fast, and under what conditions, should the testing of a life-changing technology occur. While many companies, including Google and General Motors, are conducting trials of automatic vehicles on public roads, Uber is the first to bring everyday commuters along for the ride.
“We’ve seen that this is coming — faster than anyone had imagined, ” said Roger Cohen, policy director for Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation, who said that Uber was not legally required to ask for regulators’ permission before its launch. “Current law, in its silence, is permitting it by not prohibiting it.”
Uber’s Pittsburgh project isn’t only the most high-stakes test of a promising, nascent technology. It is also a test of a belief that runs deep in the Silicon Valley DNA. That ethos holds as an article of faith that innovation will always be far ahead of the rules. It sees the world as a laboratory in which life can be made better when innovators are afforded the freedom to experiment.
To read more of the original article go to The Washington Post.