Self-driving cars still have a future – Uber boss

Khosrowshahi says Uber is still betting on self-driving technology in the long term. File photo: Eric Risberg / AP

Washington DC – Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi says the company still believes in the prospects for autonomous transport, even after one of its self-driving vehicles was involved in a fatal crash in Arizona in March.

Elaine Herzberg was killed after being hit by an Uber self-driving SUV while walking across a street in Phoenix, leading the company to suspend testing of self-driving vehicles.

Khosrowshahi wouldn’t say when the company might resume testing or what might have gone wrong; he said the company was cooperating with federal investigators and dealing “very seriously” with the incident.

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The crash has raised questions about the lack of clear safety standards for such vehicles but, speaking at a transport forum, Khosrowshahi said Uber was still betting on the technology in the long term.

He said Uber considered autonomous vehicles “part of the solution” and in the long-term key to eliminating individual car ownership.

“We believe in it; autonomous at maturity will be safer,” he insisted, adding that Uber’s interest in investing in bike sharing and public transport should not be interpreted as a move away from self-driving cars.

Neutral party

Elaine Herzberg’s bicycle lies at the side of the road after she was knocked down by a self-driving Uver Volvo SUV. File screen grab: via AP

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash.

“They are a neutral party,” said Khosrowshahi. “They understand this. We’ll figure out what to do afterwards.”

Arizona’s governor suspended Uber’s permission to test self-driving cars on public roads in the state following the crash. Arizona had been a key hub for Uber’s autonomous project, with about half the company’s 200 self-driving cars and a staff of hundreds.

At the time governor Doug Ducey called a video of the incident “disturbing and alarming” and the crash “an unquestionable failure”.