In April, Uber announced that it was “getting serious about safety” following a series of scandals that tarnished its image. Now, the company has finally come up with new safety measures, including one that turns your smartphone into an automatic crash detector.
Will it serve the purpose?
When announcing the new security features on Wednesday, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi claimed the company is “raising the bar on safety.” Of all the security updates, the most noticeable is the “Ride Check,” which uses GPS and “other sensors in the driver’s smartphone” to ascertain if there has been an accident. If the automatic crash detector determines that there was an accident, it sends a Safety Toolkit via the app to both the driver and passenger. The Safety Toolkit asks if everything is okay and gives users the option to call 911. Additionally, Uber’s own team of safety operators will work to ensure safety if the feature is triggered.
“They can let us know through the app that all is well, or take other actions like using the emergency button or reporting the issue to Uber’s critical safety line,” Khosrowshahi said in a blog post.
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Uber’s new feature does not require any new permission from users as it will be linked to the driver’s smartphone (drivers keep the Uber app on more frequently than passengers). Khosrowshahi added that the Safety ToolKit and panic button will eventually be made available to all drivers in the U.S. and Canada.
The Ride Check automatic crash detector will also track unusual actions during each trip to detect danger. For instance, a “long, unexpected stop” during the trip will prompt a safety notification. However, it remains to be seen how many users will actually use this safety feature. If anyone is in real danger, it is unlikely they would have time to check the Safety ToolKit options.
How Uber converts smartphone data for its automatic crash detector
A smartphone’s accelerometer helps Uber detect spikes in force for the vehicle it’s in. Data from the accelerometer is then processed and combined with other data sets to convert a smartphone into an automatic crash detector. Uber’s team of data scientists use the data from the smartphone sensor in combination with data from hundreds of thousands of past trips. This helps them assess if there may have been a crash or not. The ride-hailing company has been working on the Ride Check feature for the past year or so.
The concept of using sensors present in smartphones and vehicles for an automatic crash detector is not entirely new. Companies like Zendrive have been working on similar features for the past several years now. Moreover, GM’s OnStar uses vehicle sensors to detect a crash and then automatically alert the authorities.
This is also not the first time Uber will be using built-in smartphone sensors to improve its service. A few years ago, the ride-hailing app announced that it would be using gyrometer and accelerometer data from phones to verify user feedback.
Other new security features
As far as other security measures introduced by Uber, drivers now won’t have to touch their phones, even at the start or end of a trip. It is a handy feature for drivers, considering the hands-free driving rules in many states. Uber drivers will now be able to use voice commands to accept trips and communicate with passengers.
In a new privacy measure, a driver’s trip history will no longer have specific pickup and drop-off locations. Previously, many passengers raised concerns about drivers having information about their pickup and drop-off locations even after the trip. The driver app will now reveal just the general area where the trip started and ended. This feature can be seen as an extension of the capability which allows passengers to use street corners rather than home addresses to request pickups.
Other new safety features that were added include two-step verification, expanding Uber’s 911 integration pilot to more cities, and an insurance feature in the driver app. Users can expect all these features, including the automatic crash detector, to appear in their app in the coming months.
Khosrowshahi also promises that “there’s more to come,” adding, “I want Uber to be the safest transportation platform on the planet.”