Self-Driving Car Crash Adds to the Pile-Up of Bad Uber News

March 28, 2017 - 2 minutes read

Uber has spent the early months of 2017 in crisis, and from the look of things, that’s not changing anytime soon. App developers who once found inspiration in the unicorn’s impressive ascent now look on with a blend of horror and fascination as the controversies multiply. From the #DeleteUber controversy to the shocking revelations about the corporate culture, the ridesharing startup can’t seem to shake the narrative that it’s in trouble.

This past weekend, Uber pulled its self-driving cars from Tempe, San Francisco, and Pittsburgh after one of its autonomous Volvo SUVs flipped onto its side in a traffic accident. Even though the self-driving car was not at fault and the company’s autonomous fleet is already back on the roads, the incident keeps Uber in the news in a negative light.

The wreck coincides with reports of deeper, more damning issues with the Advanced Technology Group (ATG), Uber’s autonomous vehicle wing. Waymo, Google’s self-driving unit, is suing Uber over stolen technology. Since November, more than 20 engineers have walked away from the project, many due to frustrations with the company’s tendency to rush to flaunt its technological achievements before perfecting them. To make matters worse, a rift has reportedly developed between the original ATG team and the crew from Otto, a self-driving trucking startup that Uber acquired last year, in part because Travis Kalanick has yet to decide whether the business should prioritize its autonomous cars or trucks.

All the bad press Uber has received lately seems to loop back to Kalanick’s questionable leadership. Already struggling with governance issues, the company has lost several executives in the past couple months, most recently its president, Jeff Jones, an experienced business leader who only stuck around the startup for six months before moving on. The search is underway for a COO to help right the company’s course; whoever lands the job has a tough task ahead of him or her. San Franciso app developers have to wonder what it will take to rehabilitate Uber’s tarnished image — and if the company can fix it before one its competitors pulls ahead.

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