Uber self-driving test car involved in crash in Arizona

More bad news for Uber: one of the ride-hailing giant’s self-driving Volvo SUVs has been involved in a crash in Arizona — apparently leaving the vehicle flipped onto its side, and with damage to at least two other human-driven cars in the vicinity.

The aftermath of the accident is pictured in photos and a video posted to Twitter by a user of @FrescoNews, a service for selling content to news outlets. According to the company’s tweets, the collision happened in Tempe, Arizona, and no injuries have yet been reported.

Uber has also confirmed the accident and the veracity of the photos to Bloomberg. We’ve reached out to the company with questions and will update this story with any response. Update: Uber has now provided us with the following statement: “We are continuing to look into this incident and can confirm we had no backseat passengers in the vehicle.”

TechCrunch understands Uber’s self-driving fleet in Arizona has been grounded, following the incident, while an investigation is undertaken. The company has confirmed the vehicle involved in the incident was in self-driving mode. We’re told no one was seriously injured.

Local newspaper reports suggest another car failed to yield to Uber’s SUV, hitting it and resulting in the autonomous vehicle flipping onto its side. Presumably the Uber driver was unable to take over the controls in time to prevent the accident.

The third-gen self-driving test cars were redeployed to Arizona from San Francisco in December, after Uber refused to bend to California regulators’ will and seek a permit for testing autonomous driving in the state. It claimed it does not need the permit as all its self-driving test vehicles have a human driver in them too.

Arizona state Governor Doug Ducey tweeted at the time that the region welcomed “this kind of technology & innovation”. Ducey does not as yet appear to have made any public statements regarding today’s Uber accident.

Given that the Uber vehicle has flipped onto its side it looks to be a high speed crash, which suggests a pretty serious incident versus the mostly minor accidents detailed by Google’s longer-lived self-driving car unit, Waymo, such as low speed rear-end shunts of the vehicles (by human-powered cars driving behind them).

Another concerning incident involving an Uber self-driving car occurred last December in California when one of its vehicles ran a red light — though Uber blamed this on human error, rather than the fault of the self-driving tech. (Although a New York Times report, citing two Uber sources, claimed the opposite.)

Leaked internal documents have also suggested Uber’s self-driving technology isn’t making steady improvements.

In February, the head of Uber’s self-drive program — who is himself being sued for allegedly stealing technology from Google’s Waymo, where he used to work, and using it to set up Otto, the self-driving truck startup that Uber acquired in August last year — confirmed Uber has 12 self-driving cars apiece on the roads in Phoenix and Pittsburgh.

Earlier this month a New York Times report also claimed the company was using a proprietary software tool to deny rides to members of code enforcement authorities or city officials that were attempting to gather data about Uber offering service where it’s currently prohibited. The company has since said it is reviewing use of the tool — which it claims can be used for “many purposes”.

The company is also facing a storm of controversy over allegations of systemic sexism poisoning its corporate culture — with president Jeff Jones leaving in recent days, and reports that Uber denied recruiters diversity data, piling more pressure on founder and CEO Travis Kalanick.