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Opinion
David Fickling

Uber’s Ghost in the Self-Driving Machine

A report into the fatal Arizona crash shows its system was far from genuinely autonomous.

Can a system that's so dependent on human intervention be considered autonomous?

Can a system that's so dependent on human intervention be considered autonomous?

Photographer: Angelo Merendino/AFP/Getty Images

What is an autonomous car — and more to the point, has Uber Technologies Inc. been operating them at all?

From its public statements, you’d certainly think that its vehicles can more or less drive themselves, with humans required only as a safety back-up while the system is in trial mode. Take this video from Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group, posted in April 2017, showing the company’s self-driving cars cruising smoothly around Pittsburgh. Or this one from October 2017: “We have hundreds of self-driving vehicles out in the world,” the narrator says. The car’s autonomous systems “make sure the vehicle’s aware of everything around it, like the stop sign up ahead, that woman crossing the street, and the cyclist coming up behind them.”