Leaked documents show Uber’s self-driving cars far from ready to go driverless

Don’t expect to see an Uber with no driver rolling down your street anytime soon.

Judging by some leaked company documents, the self-driving cars have a long way to go before they’ll be safe enough to operate on their own.

Last week, on average, human drivers testing Uber’s self-driving cars had to take control of the vehicles every 0.8 miles to correct or prevent the car from making a mistake, according to internal documents obtained by Recode. Those checks, called “disengagements,” could be caused by a number of reasons — maybe rain or poorly marked roads are making it difficult for the car to navigate, or maybe the car is about to cause a crash that could seriously hurt someone.

That data is from the week ending March 8, during which Uber had 43 active cars on the roads. That fleet of cars shuttled passengers on about 930 rides in Pittsburgh last week, and about 150 rides in Phoenix. Altogether, the cars racked up 20,354 miles of autonomous driving, according to Recode.

That means the cars are driving more, Recode reports. They drove themselves for about 18,000 miles a week last month, up from about 5,000 miles a week in January (when the company had about 20 vehicles on the road, mainly in Pittsburgh).

In January, the cars only drove 5,000 miles. At that point, however, the company only had about 20 active vehicles, mainly in Pittsburgh. By February, the company’s cars were driving themselves around 18,000 miles a week.

And last week Uber’s self-driving cars drove an average of about 200 miles between what the company calls  “critical” interventions, where the human had to take control to avoid hitting a person of causing more than $5,000 of property damage.

That’s better than the week before, Recode reports, but that progress hasn’t been consistent.

When reached by SiliconBeat, Uber declined to comment.

To be fair, Uber’s  leaders themselves have acknowledged the cars aren’t nearly ready to operate on their own — after all, that was the company’s main argument as to why it shouldn’t have to apply for a state permit to test the cars in California. Even so, Recode suggests some of Uber’s cars aren’t doing as well as the company had hoped.

Uber recently caved to California regulators and got the state-mandated testing permit, allowing the company to bring the self-driving cars back to Silicon Valley — the nation’s hub of autonomous vehicle technology. But last week Uber said it has no plans to resume picking up passengers with those cars in San Francisco.

Photo: An Uber self-driving car waits to be demonstrated in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)


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