BlackBerry’s CEO says the tech giant will continue to test autonomous vehicles on Canadian roads and called on government to act after what’s believed to be the auto industry’s first death involving a fully autonomous vehicle.
A Volvo, being used by Uber, was in self-driving mode with a human backup driver at the wheel Sunday in Tempe, Ariz., when it hit 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, who died in hospital.
BlackBerry CEO John Chen said in a blog post on the company’s website that he is “saddened by the tragic accident” but that research and tests will continue.
“This incident should serve as a powerful reminder of how high the stakes are for all of us working on the next generation of connected vehicles,” he wrote.
BlackBerry is currently working with Tier 1 suppliers, automakers and other technology companies to build autonomous systems. The Canadian tech giant has a self-driving concept car that is tested in what Chen calls “a highly-controlled environment in Ottawa.”
“We will continue to test our software on the road, and more importantly, will be accelerating our efforts to work with legislators and oversight bodies to promote the need for safety and security of autonomous vehicles,” he wrote. “Putting robots in control of our transportation grid and trusting them with our lives is an unsettling thought for many of us, and the federal governments in North America have a responsibility to act in the public interest; balancing our fears against the prospect of saving millions of lives and improving the opportunities for billions more globally.”
Chen believes federal action is required “to prevent local governments from creating a patchwork of potentially incompatible rules that will stifle innovation.”
Chen wants U.S. lawmakers to pass the AV START bill. It would allow for broader exemptions to federal vehicle safety standards and pre-empt some state and local regulation.
“Its enactment will ensure that the industry can build the data sets necessary for the safe operation of driverless cars and provides policy makers with the tools to responsibly regulate the technology as it matures and ultimately reaches mass market readiness,” Chen said.
However, earlier in March, safety advocates complained the Senate was rushing to please the auto industry without putting sufficient safeguards on autonomous vehicles allowed to operate on public roads.
Chen said “self-driving cars will save millions of lives” but that fully autonomous vehicles “are a few years off.”
“Arriving at this destination will require significant data which can only be obtained by testing cars on the street, operating in real-world conditions, and with adequate safety protocols,” he said. “The time to act is now and we have privately and are now publicly inviting those Senators who harbour concerns to engage with us so that together we can build on the AV START framework and set the standard for our shared future.”