You'll recall that immediately after launching their self-driving car program in SF in December, Uber had a PR problem involving one of those cars that was caught on a taxi's dash cam blowing through a red light next to SFMOMA (see video above). Uber quickly told the media that this was due to human error, and a driver was in control of the vehicle at the time, but the New York Times now reports via two anonymous company employees and an internal document that in fact the car was driving itself, and that the autonomous vehicles failed to recognize traffic lights on six separate occasions.
Uber, via a spokesperson, is still trying to spin this, saying, "Our self-driving technology required human intervention. The vehicle operator had time to intervene, but failed to take over before crossing the stop line and manually proceeded through the protected crosswalk." Thus they're saying this could still be called human error.
But the internal report seems to jibe with the anecdotal reports of multiple red-light-blowing incidents that emerged in the days following Uber's rollout of the autonomous vehicles.
The incident outside SFMOMA made national news as it happened on Uber's first day attempting to flout state regulations and begin taking passengers in the self-driving vehicles, and the surprise launch would only last a week before the California DMV revoked the registrations for the vehicles and shut it all down.
The Times suggests that the company's handling of the incident "reflects Uber’s aggressiveness in its efforts around self-driving cars and the ambition of its project leader, [Anthony] Levandowski, who is now at the center of a lawsuit brought against Uber by [Alphabet-owned] Waymo." We learned about the lawsuit the other day, which accused Levandowski of stealing trade secrets and downloading a cache of technical documents before leaving the employ of Google's autonomous car division to go work for Uber. Specifically, the lawsuit suggests that Levandowski and other employees now at Uber and it autonomous trucking affiliate Otto stole specifications pertaining to the LiDAR technology, the laser-powered sensor mechanism that sits atop self-driving vehicles.
In related news, a self-driving Chevrolet Bolt was involved in a vehicle accident last week on Golden Gate Avenue according to the Chronicle, via a mandatory DMV report. In this case it sounds as though it was not the robot vehicle's fault the Bolt stopped at a flashing yellow light at a crosswalk, and a car immediately behind it also stopped, but a third car behind that one rear-ended the second car, which consequently rear-ended the Bolt. No one was injured.