Waymo CEO says its tech would have handled Uber self-driving incident safely

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What's news from the Wall Street Journal, top stories and timely insights. I'm Charlie Turner in New York. We've learned more about the test operator of an Uber self driving car involved in a fatal accident. It's reignited a debate about autonomous vehicles and their operators more on this in a moment. I hear some top news headlines President, Donald Trump says he signed a one point, three trillion dollar spending measure averting, a government shutdown just hours after saying he was considering a veto Trump has been fuming because the package doesn't include protections for dreamer immigrants and doesn't provide enough money for his promised border wall. But Trump is pointing to major increases in military spending included in the Bill which he said he signed as a matter of national security. However, he issued this warning. There are a lot of things that I'm unhappy about in this Bill. There are a lot of things that we shouldn't have had in this Bill, but we were in a sense forced if we want to build our military, we were forced to have there is something. That we should have in the Bill. But I say to congress, I will never sign another Bill like this again. I'm not gonna do it again. The Bill keeps the government funded through September. China fired a retaliatory shot against the US Friday announcing plan tariffs against three billion dollars of American goods. Beijing said, is readying more actions against the Trump administration's proposed penalties on Chinese exports, President Trump Thursday, announced tariffs on as much as sixty billion dollars of Chinese products, a gunman demanding the release of the only surviving suspect of the two thousand fifteen Paris terrorist attacks killed three people Friday in a supermarket assault in southern France. Before he was shot dead by police. The attack in the town of trips has been described as a terrorist attack and has the latest in a string of attacks across Europe. In recent years back in the US government said, new home sales fell point, six percent in February while orders for durable goods rose, three point, one percent last month that was the strongest gain since June. Two thousand seventeen and cloud storage company. Dropbox had a strong debut on Wall Street Friday, opening at twenty nine dollars a share. Well above the twenty one dollars initial public offering price. The stock surge pushed drop boxes market cap above ten billion dollars coming up. We'll talk about the operator involved in an Uber self-driving fatal accident. This is what's news from the Wall Street Journal. Thanks for listening. Everyone. We've learned more about the test operator of an Uber self driving car involved in a fatal crash. Last Sunday Rafael Vasquez was in the vehicle that struck and killed a pedestrian who was walking or bicycle along the side of a road in Tempe, ARizona Vasquez background includes jail sentences and a history of traffic citations. The incident raises numerous questions about Uber testing process for self-driving technology. It's training procedures for drivers. Ober background checks and the viability of self driving technology, throw all that on top of Uber's pass legal woes and. Journal clashes which led to the replacement last year of CEO and founder. Travis kalanick's joining us is Wall Street Journal reporter, Tim Higgins, Tim first, let's talk about Raphael Vasquez. He was a convicted felon wasn't a. Yeah, he was and his offenses fell within the company's standard background check requirements. And he remains an employee at this point of the company, generally screens for criminal violations dating back seven years. And part of this policy gives a second chance to to folks who have made prior bad decisions according to the company and this this involved, I think a an attempted Bank robbery or something, and he was jailed for five years. Pretty serious stuff. Yeah. You received a five year sentence and local county in the little county and for attempted armed robbery in two thousand and serve the sentence concurrently with a one year sentence for false statements in nineteen. Ninety nine. But it also raises questions about the entire program that Uber uses in in that the self-driving industry uses in a lotta ways. This human safety operator is the last line of defense to ensure that the robot car doesn't do something catastrophic. The person is supposed to be attentive, looking at the road ready to grab the wheel in retake control. If the person becomes concerned about the row conditions, or if the robot starts to do things that don't seem right, or there's just some perceived danger. I've been in a lot of these cars for different companies, and everybody goes about it a little bit differently. Some really pushed their safety operators to be very diligent. I remember I was in a General Motors vehicle and San Francisco through their unit called cruise automation, which is developing self driving software. And I watched the safety operator and he kept his hands almost touching the wheel. I could hear the wheel moving between his fingers and he wasn't applying torque to turn the wheel. But he was there basically almost ready to grab it if need be. And that's part of the company's policy. In fact, it was at some point hard to know if he was driving the car was driving, and I had to ask the the, the folks that were giving me the demonstration and look at the computer to see because it was just he was that attentive to to what was going on. Compare that to some other scenarios that I've seen from other companies and some keep their hands on their laps, which you know maybe doesn't give enough time others keep it close to the wheel. I, it just kind of goes, goes a wide range of how these things go. And and we see with Uber programs that there's a wide range of who's allowed to be a safety operator, not a lot of companies wanna talk about this right now. But if you look at job ads, for example, you look at General Motors, cruise automation job ads, and and they're looking for a clean background check through for criminal and driving. And so it raises the question of why Uber was allowing this person behind the wheel, Tim heaven, video shown that a lot of these operators attentions tend to wander after a while. I think one video showed somebody she was paying attention for a while and then ended up doing or makeup. Yeah. When Google was first experimenting and testing with the idea of self driving cars. This was a number of years ago they put together several vehicles and give them to employees is to to commute to work, and they told their employees that you still have to be paying attention in. You might have to take control the vehicle and there's a camera in this car. We're going to be watching it. You need to stay vigilant. And what they found was people became very quickly accustomed to the vehicle driving, and then. They started doing other things that really horrified the the executives Google, including they saw through the video, one of their people sleeping one woman putting makeup on just general things that clearly indicate. They weren't paying attention to the driving situation and the yanked the program and really pivoted their development towards the idea of needing to be fully automated, that they couldn't put a commercial product in the road for a consumer to have that would be partially automated that it needs to be need to be humanness. So that's what they're working. And they've started deploying here in Phoenix where I am in the Phoenix area completely driverless cars, and they expect to have a robot taxi service commercially available later this year. But there's still this, this challenge the industry, and even even in Google, which is now known as Waymo for their self driving out for they still face this challenge of needing to test. Before the robot is fully capable of doing things. So there in between this rock in this heart place where they need to put the technology on the road to see if it works and they need to have a human behind the wheel, and but also, you know, the the humans are fallible and so we, we look at some of the people out there doing this. They have very stringent policies for their their safety operators, e- your sleep and sleep. You need to pull over and wake yourself up rules against using cell phones in the vehicle, these sorts of things. And and really one of the industry, there is no industry requirements or standards per se, but there is a kind of commonality that we have found across a number of these players. And that's that going to in the early days of testing, you're most likely to see the engineers who are most involved in developing this technology in the vehicles because they know what's going on and they're, they're trying to figure things out and is the program becomes more mature. Most of these companies wanna start getting more road mileage and more exp-. Experiments and more experience, and they expand their fleets to more to a more general driving employee base. Maybe people who aren't engineers, for example. And so they tend to have two people. One is the driver behind the wheel, ready to take control. And the other is in the passenger seat who's monitoring the the system software to try to understand what the car is seeing into helps look at the road and a lot of ways some industry in observers kind of look at this is to people are there to also kind of monitor each other to make sure that the team is working the way it's supposed to be almost like if you look at modern airplanes, these things are highly automated in some would say, perhaps you only need one person there to oversee the machine. But we insist on having a co pilot and pilot really their tobacco each other up. And so what we've seen as the autonomous cars get further and further along. They get more mature in the case of Waymo. For example, after years and years of using to safety operators, they began to in two thousand fifteen to to go to having perhaps one operator in a vehicle for more routine things, but still going to to operators when maybe they would be testing new hardware new software or driving in a new area that they didn't have experience with. But for now, Ober has suspended testing of self driving vehicles during the investigation of this accident. That's correct Wall Street Journal reporter, Tim Higgins. Thanks a lot, Tim. Thank you. And that's what's news. I'm Charlie Turner at the Wall Street Journal.

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