In the aftermath of a March 2018 accident involving an autonomous Uber vehicle that killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, Uber retained law firm LeClairRyan to compile a report focusing on the safety culture and safety practices of the Advanced Technologies Group, or ATG. (That’s the division responsible for Uber’s autonomous vehicle development.) One of the recommendations it gave was the creation of an independent external review board that would examine Uber’s policies, processes, and procedures. And today, roughly a year after the report’s publication, Uber says it’s established such a board.
Uber’s new self-driving safety and responsibility advisory (SARA) board is charged with reviewing, advising, and suggesting changes to ATG’s policies. It’s made up of six members who will provide input on organization-wide goals and priorities, and suggest improvements to the way Uber ATG develops driverless technology and brings it to market.
The SARA board, which already had its first meeting and which will meet quarterly, will also spotlight potential risks and recommend follow-up actions while investigating ways to increase public understanding of self-driving vehicles. Lastly, the board will inform ATG’s engagement in industry conversations around relevant topics such as fully driverless operations and responsibility.
Those appointed to Uber’s SARA board will serve two-year terms and positions, rotating annually:
- President of GHS Aviation Safety Specialists George Snyder, who will serve as board chair
- President of Biologue, Inc. Dr. Jeffrey Runge, who will serve as vice-chair
- Former test pilot and chief pilot flight operations safety at Boeing David Carbaugh, who will serve as secretary
- President of Intelligent Transportation Society of America Shailen Bhatt
- Former president of the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety Adrian Lund
- Robotics lecturing fellow and visiting assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering Victoria Nneji
By way of refresher, Uber halted self-driving tests in San Francisco, Toronto, and Pittsburgh shortly after Arizona governor Doug Ducey suspended the company’s permission to deploy cars in the state. Last year, the National Transportation Safety Board determined that Uber had disabled the automatic emergency braking system in the Volvo XC90 involved in the fatal crash. (The company said in internal documents that this was to “reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior.”)
Uber began reintroducing fleets of self-driving cars in Pittsburgh late last summer, albeit initially with their autonomous systems disabled. In a blog post published in June 2018, head of ATG Eric Meyhofer detailed newly implemented safeguards, such as a training program focused on safe manual driving and monitoring systems that alert remote monitors if drivers take their eyes off the road.
In a voluntary safety assessment filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Uber said that, with a newly established systems engineering testing team, it’s now better positioned “to reason over many possible outcomes to ultimately come to a safe response.” It also revealed that it spent months testing its self-driving technology on a closed track and that it completed a lengthy internal review.
Uber’s public relations battle hasn’t lessened in intensity, though. In a recent study conducted by U.K. firm Leasing Options, only 6% of the 1,000 people surveyed indicated that they trusted a taxi company such as Uber or Lyft to produce a self-driving car. That’s compared with the 62.6% who said they’d trust an automaker over a tech company.