Driverless Cars: Uber car involved in fatal crash had software flaws

13/06/2017: Apple CEO Tim Cook has confirmed that Apple is developing self-driving technology.

In a Bloomberg interview, he said: "We're focusing on autonomous systems ... It's a core technology that we view as very important."

Cook explained: "We sort of see it as the mother of all AI projects, it's probably one of the most difficult AI projects to work on. And so autonomy is something that is incredibly exciting for us. But we'll see where it takes us, we are not really saying from a product point of view what will we do, but we are being straightforward that it's a core technology that we view as very important."

This new industry is seen to be as very appealing, especially as it was predicted that it will be worth $7 billion by 2050 and $800 billion by 2035. A total 43% of total revenues are expected to come from business use of self-driving cars such as in transportation, freight delivery and sales and service fleets. Yesterday, Jaguar announced that it was investing 20 million in Lyft, Uber's arch-rival, in order to help its research on self-driving cars

There have been plenty of rumours that Apple was developing a car under the codename Project Titan. In December it was reported that Apple had plans to develop a self-driving car because of a letter the company wrote to US transport regulators. However, in April last year, the Ford CEO also claimed that Apple was building a car although there was no clear evidence available.

12/06/2017: A new study by Intel predicts steep exponential growth in the self-driving car industry, which is expected to reach $800 billion in market value by 2035 and a massive $7 trillion by 2050.

The industry's predicted mid-century market cap is more than the projected 2017 GDPs of Japan and Brazil combined, Intel's report, Accelerating the Future: The Economic Impact of the Emerging Passenger Economy, found.

Business use of self-driving cars, such as in industries like transportation, freight delivery and sales and service fleets, will account for 43% of total revenues, generating $3 trillion in revenues, the chip giant said.

Driverless technology could save 585,000 lives between 2035 to 2045, slightly higher than the population of Sheffield, according to Intel, which took the global number of deaths resulting from traffic incidents every year, estimating that self-driving tech could save 5% of these lives. Correspondingly, public safety costs related to traffic incidents could fall by more than $234 billion.

The current truck driver shortage around the world may increase pressure on businesses to introduce self-driving vehicles, for example in the UK it was estimated that there was a shortage of nearly 100,000 drivers and in the US there was a shortage of over 200,000. The study highlights that there are also driver shortages in Brazil, South Africa and India too.

Intel also hypothesised that businesses will increase their IT spending, including cloud services, in order to provide efficient and effective dispatch, transport and CRM to support this. Businesses will have a greater focus on data, too, which will be fundamental to the delivery and use of services.

Organisations' labour requirements will fall as the new technology will replace not only drivers but also the back end of the process, where it will become an IT workflow.

The study concluded that the emergence of this new economy "marks the greatest transition in human mobility since humans left their horses for a new relationship with the horseless carriage".

01/06/2017: Uber's head of finance Gautam Gapta is set to leave the ride-hailing company in July. At the same time, the company's first-quarter losses have narrowed substantially to $708 million.

Uber has confirmed with IT Pro that Gapta will leave in July. Gapta is set to join another startup in San Francisco, leaving Uber to suffer another executive departure. Uber has experienced a number of high-profile departures in the last few months and now the company will be looking for a new official CFO as well as a COO to partner with CEO Travis Kalanick.

Reuters reported that Uber's first-quarter losses narrowed substantially from the previous quarter. Uber declared a net loss of $708 million, excluding employee stock compensation and other items, in Q1 2017, down from $991 million in Q4 2016. Furthermore, Uber's first-quarter revenue rose 18% to $3.4 billion.

An Uber spokesperson said to Reuters: "The narrowing of our losses in the first quarter puts us on a good trajectory towards profitability".

Since Uber is a private company, it does not report its financial results publicly but does confirm figures reported in the media.

Yesterday, it came to light that Uber had fired Anthony Levandowski amid the legal battle with Waymo. Levandowski had refused to cooperate with the investigation in which Waymo claimed that the engineer had stolen thousands of documents from the company relating to self-driving vehicle technology.

31/05/2017: Uber has fired Anthony Levandowski after the engineer failed to cooperate in the ongoing lawsuit with Alphabet, the parent company of Google.

Uber general counsel Salle Yoo outlined in Levandowski's termination letter, dated 26 May, that his failure to comply with a court order is the reason for his firing. In the letter, Yoo also wrote that "your failure impeded Uber's internal investigation and defense of the lawsuit".

A federal judge in the ongoing court case between Uber and Alphabet's self-driving car firm, Waymo, granted a preliminary injunction against Uber on 12 May that led the ride-hailing firm to remove Levandowski from any work on Lidar, and to return any stolen documents to Waymo.

Levandowski is accused of downloading 14,000 confidential files before leaving Google's self-driving division in 2016. He went on to start his own self-driving truck company called Otto, which Uber bought in August 2016, six months after he had left his previous employer.

Yoo goes on to underline that Uber required the engineer to have "destroyed all property and confidential information belonging to any prior employer" and by not complying with the court order it's a potential breach and warranty in the employment agreement and an "additional ground for termination".

Levandowski invoked the fifth amendment in order to not to incriminate himself and refused to hand over documents or answer questions during a deposition.

Uber has insisted its technology is different to Waymo's and there is no evidence it has the stolen files on its servers, although it did not check Lewandowski's computer in its search.

Bobby Hellard

Bobby Hellard is ITPro's Reviews Editor and has worked on CloudPro and ChannelPro since 2018. In his time at ITPro, Bobby has covered stories for all the major technology companies, such as Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook, and regularly attends industry-leading events such as AWS Re:Invent and Google Cloud Next.

Bobby mainly covers hardware reviews, but you will also recognize him as the face of many of our video reviews of laptops and smartphones.