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Uber self-driving cars 'bullied' by drivers and pedestrians

Olivia Rudgard
The company also unveiled a new Volvo autonomous vehicle at the event, and said it was working towards using a car without a steering wheel or pedals, though this was not possible under current regulations. - Uber

Uber's self-driving cars are being "bullied"  by people who want to "test their boundaries", the company has said. 

Eric Meyhofer, head of the company's Advanced Technologies Group, said its cameras have captured pedestrians and drivers treating the cars with hostility. The vehicles are equipped with sensors and currently being tested with humans supervising from the driving seat. 

"We’ve seen people bully these cars. They feel like they can be more aggressive because we won’t take a position on it, or we’ll allow it," he told journalists at Uber's Elevate conference in Washington DC.

The behaviours, which included pedestrians gesturing or saying things, people challenging the cars to stop, and drivers coming up close behind them, was "mean-spirited", he said, adding that drivers also tended not to give the cars the right of way at four-way junctions. 

"You’re on video but still people do bully them and that’s a fascinating thing to see where people are testing the boundaries of what they can do to self-driving," he added.

Asked whether people forgot about manners and etiquette when interacting with self-driving cars, he said: "I think people are trying to figure it out."

Uber, best-known as a ride sharing company, plans to add autonomous vehicles to its fleet, which it says will reduce costs because it will no longer have to rely on human drivers.  It is testing its self-driving cars in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

It recently began operating them again after a fatal crash last year which killed a pedestrian and led to the company removing the cars from the roads for nine months. 

Last year reports suggested that Google's self-driving spinoff Waymo was suffering aggression from locals where it operates in Phoenix, Arizona

Self-driving cars have provoked frustration in drivers who say they tend to be more cautious and take longer to carry out simple manoeuvres, holding up traffic. 

Experts have suggested that this could be because they are regarded as service robots, which have a low status and are vulnerable to abuse. 

Uber also unveiled a new Volvo autonomous vehicle at the event, and said it was working towards using a car without a steering wheel or pedals, though this was not possible under current rules.