Uber encouraging feedback from fellow road users on AV performance

Uber AV introduces a “How’s my driving?” email address 

Autonomous Vehicle (AV) companies have been testing autonomous vehicles, and even picking up passengers, on Pittsburgh streets since September 2016. Since then, there has been an enormous growth of AVs on Pittsburgh streets, many of which are also popular cycling routes.

The rapid increase of AVs on city streets, sharing the road with vulnerable bicyclists and pedestrians, led to us questioning their safety and performance. Shortly after being introduced to Pittsburgh streets in 2016, an incident occurred where an AV performed a dangerous maneuver and turned illegally across a bike lane, while on a demo with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition staff. Then, a video surfaced of another AV blowing through a red light, naturally leading everyone to wonder if AVs were ready for primetime, and if we, as Pittsburghers, were ready to be a test bed for AV companies.

This chain of events led us at BikePGH to create the first-ever survey of bicyclists and pedestrians who are sharing the road with AVs. We collected about a thousand responses, from both our membership and the general public, and were surprised with the results.

Survey Results

In general, people felt much better sharing city streets with AVs than with human drivers. Citing varied reasons such as, “AVs are patient” and “don’t get road rage,” and that “they seem to actually travel the speed limit,” our respondents were fairly welcoming to a future of removing humans from the automobiles that they are interacting with on a daily basis.

Not all is rosy, however. In addition to some bigger picture criticism, such as “they are still cars” that take up space and pollute our air, there were some problematic patterns that people observed in AV behavior. Most notably, people felt that AVs didn’t always pass with the legal four-foot clearance (especially next to a bike lane), and that they were not yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks, behaviors endemic to Pittsburgh’s human drivers as well, but should be able to be programmed into a computer.

Another common response to the survey was that people wanted a place to be able to report AV behavior that they thought was problematic. While critical of these behaviors, for the most part, people wanted the opportunity to improve the machines, most likely with the intentions of self-preservation and hope of fixing this behavior. None of the AVs have a “how’s my driving?” sticker on them, and people really felt like this is necessary.

This led BikePGH to create our Submit Autonomous Vehicle Experience, or SAVE Form, so that we can keep monitoring people’s experiences (both good and bad), and be able to raise an alarm or provide feedback to the AV companies who are working on improving their performance.

Uber responds

Continued dialog with the companies, in particular Uber, has now led to what we think is the first feedback protocol from an AV company.

Uber has now created an email where fellow road users can send the company feedback directly. Pittsburgh’s Advanced Technologies Group would like to welcome fellow road users to submit important observations to aroundtown@uber.com. They unveiled the “aroundtown” feedback loop during a recent public tech talk at their office in the Strip District.

Submit your observations directly to Uber: aroundtown@uber.com

By way of this feedback loop, Uber is calling on cyclists and pedestrians to call-out scenarios on the roadway that you believe require special attention. When submitting, the more information you can provide, the better. For instance, please note the date, time, intersection, and car number, so that Uber can more easily review any data that they may have.

When submitting an observation to this email, you should expect one of two things:

  1. Hear nothing – this signals that the observation was straight forward and taken in by the engineering team, or
  2. A follow-up email – from someone on Uber’s engineering staff to gather more information about your observation.

As citizens of Pittsburgh living within an AV test bed, we are expected to trust AV companies and regulators that the cars are safe enough to share the road with the public. We feel that Uber is making a step to help build that trust by offering a place to provide feedback on their performance, and improve the dialogue with Pittsburgh residents.

Follow along with AV developments as they relate to biking and walking in Pittsburgh on our webpage: bikepgh.org/av

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