There were no passengers in the back seat and no serious injuries were reported. The collision occurred when another vehicle failed to yield, an indication that the Uber vehicle was not at fault, according to police.
Uber has been quicker than most to put paying passengers inside its self-driving vehicles, even though it has been developing the technology for less time. Its vehicles always contain a safety engineer to take control when necessary, the company says.
Last August, Uber announced it would begin piloting self-driving vehicles with passengers in Pittsburgh. It acquired Otto, a self-driving technology company, that same month, and had already partnered with the Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute, which has long developed artificial intelligence technology. In December, Uber announced plans to test self-driving cars with passengers in Arizona after California regulators shut them down for not obtaining the proper permits. Uber has since gotten the permit and resumed testing in San Francisco.
By comparison, Google has been developing autonomous driving technology since 2009 and first allowed a non-employee to take a solo trip in 2015. (Waymo, Google’s self-driving car company, is currently suing Uber and Otto over claims of stolen intellectual property.)
This is the first major crash for Uber’s self-driving cars, though they have been criticized for running red lights and cutting off cyclists. The company has a lot at stake with its investment in self-driving technology. Many expect autonomous vehicles will first come online through ride-sharing services, such as Uber and Lyft, rather than replacing our personal cars. As a result, companies including Ford, Tesla and General Motors are exploring fleets of their own and could present new competition for Uber.
Though reports indicate the Uber vehicle was not at fault, the incident raises questions about how self-driving cars will share the road with human drivers. Enthusiasts expect they will ultimately lead to fewer traffic crashes and fatalities, though there is expected to be a long period of transition as humans remain behind the wheel.
Read more from The Washington Post’s Innovations section.