Autonomous Automobiles: how one Uber driver feels about self-driving cars

It’s 8:20am. You’ve overslept, and class starts in five minutes. You stumble out of bed and throw on a dirty pair of jeans and a wrinkly t-shirt. All the sudden, an idea hits you. You reach into your pocket for your phone.

Never fear. Uber is here.

Within minutes, your Uber driver arrives, and starts to take you to your desired location. During the ride, you have a pleasant conversation with the driver. Finally, as the conversation ends all-too-abruptly, you arrive to the IMU, or the Sample Gates or wherever the driver might take you. By the click of a button, you’re not-so-late today. Convenient enough.

After class, you might have walked down Kirkwood or strolled through campus, and maybe you picked up a copy of the New York Times. In it, you see headlines about self-driving cars. Then, you think back to the Uber ride earlier this morning. One can only wonder about these things.

Uber was founded eight years ago, and since then it has grown into an international company that employs more people than most fast food chains. Attempting to compete with Waymo, which formed from a Google self-driving car project, the transportation services company began to develop a similar program. After spending almost $700 million, Uber cars started taking routes without a driver.

Then, a car crashed in Tempe, Arizona. As a result, the company suspended its self-driving car program for three days. Now, autonomous vehicles are back on the road after a tidal wave of backlash.

“The vehicle might be a little silly,” said Chris, a full-time Uber driver in Bloomington. He sat comfortably behind the wheel of an SUV, wearing a big smile on his face.

Although easy-spoken, the idea of a self-driving car didn’t sit too well with this particular driver. He told a story about Milton Hershey, and how he was presented with technology that would replace eighteen workers. In the driver’s story, Hershey said to get rid of the machine. He would rather have eighteen people working for him.

This is a route the driver wishes Uber would take. People need to have employment, said Chris.

“I don’t want a self-driving car driving around Bloomington. Then, I wouldn’t get any riders,” he said.

This innovative capability might raise some alarms on behalf of Uber drivers in cities everywhere, because the company is not-so-keen on worker’s rights. When drivers tried to unionize in Seattle, the company took legal action against the city.

Although he doesn’t care for it, Chris said he understands the business model on Uber’s end. If it’s something that saves money, he understands why, theoretically, the company would employ it.

“I think one of the inherent problems in the program, is that the car might work fine. But then, there’s got to be a wreck before you can go, ‘O.K. what happened’?”

Other technical difficulties have been in the news lately. In Phoenix, an autopilot car made by Tesla crashed into a police motorcycle on March 21. The Tesla Model X didn’t injure anyone, but even a simple fender-bender raised some eyebrows for this giant leap in driving technology.

Autonomous automobiles are certainly a work-in-progress. In the accident that caused the short-lived suspension, no one was injured. At the same time, just one incident like this, just one technical miscalculation, could prove fatal.