Earlier this month, an experimental self-driving car (operating autonomously with a human also at the wheel) killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. This was the first pedestrian death in such a scenario, which has led to plenty of debate over who’s responsible when such a tragedy occurs. Yet as the above Getty photo (taken on March 28 in San Francisco) reveals, this didn’t take Uber’s self-driving cars off the streets for long, and now, there are real questions surrounding the hush-hush nature by which Uber was testing the program.
The Guardian has obtained emails between Uber and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey’s office, all of which reveal how Uber’s self-driving program began, secretly and with no public awareness, in August 2016 on Phoenix streets. After the fatal crash, Ducey suspended the program in Arizona, but the emails reportedly show that he was all for the self-driving testing, and Uber courted him aggressively with praise and offers to bring jobs and money into Arizona. Ducey then mandated an Uber-friendly policy at a ceremony where he nearly wore an Uber t-shirt (but changed his mind). Via The Guardian:
One of Ducey’s first acts as governor was to instruct officials not to pursue ride-share drivers over taxi licensing rules. Uber seemed to have secured a political ally in Ducey who signed a bill legalizing ride-sharing at a high-profile ceremony in April 2015, flanked by Uber and Lyft drivers and executives.
In the run-up to the ceremony, Uber staff wrote to Ducey’s office with some questions. “Is the governor still interested in wearing an Uber shirt at the event? We’re looking into polo shirts, and it would be great to get his size,” wrote one. “Can we swap out the order and have the Uber driver [introduce the governor]?” wrote another. “I think this makes more sense since this is ultimately about them.” While Ducey’s team agreed to Uber’s scheduling preference, photographs from the signing show him wearing a plain blue shirt.
Despite the t-shirt omission, the emails reveal that Uber’s director of public policy and planning, Justin Kintz, sent a message that described Ducey as “a real thought leader on these innovation issues.” This was succeeded by Uber launching a customer service center in Phoenix in 2015, which was followed by Ducey’s announcement of a $25,000 Uber check for University of Arizona’s College of Optical Sciences. And then Ducey signed an executive order to allow Uber’s self-driving tests to commence in Arizona, and so much more.
The full timeline is a revealing one. Further, it’s notable that Ducey has ducked The Guardian‘s questions on why the program was kept secret, while Uber explained that it never made a public announcement because it was distracted with a Pittsburgh program. Further, it seems that someone at Uber suggested letting police know about this program, but it never happened. Not a good look for Uber or Ducey (or self-driving cars), for sure.
(Via The Guardian)