Uber may be gearing up for a new round of controversy due to a pending patent filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The ride-sharing company has filed a patent for a controversial new technology that could route riders out of unsafe areas, and even discriminate against drivers of older vehicles.
According to Motor1, The patent was first filed this past January but the filing was updated on June 28. The first part of the patent looks to help riders avoid certain areas with a "safe routing" option. The app will take governmental data, social media, news media, and academic data into account to compile "incidents of violent crime" or "negative or positive news stories" about a location. Other factors including weather, congestion, and interpersonal conflicts with drivers will be weighted and customizable by the user via a slider in the app.
Critics of the patent will argue the technology obviously avoids poorer areas or ethnic neighborhoods, though the patent makes no mention of race, status, gender, or other qualities.
The patent also describes a way for Uber to determine the safety of a driver's vehicle, which a rider could then also use to avoid unsafe situations. Users could opt out of a ride if the technology determines a driver's vehicle as less safe via an area of the app that lists the "vehicle make, model, year, and health" of the car.
The patent goes on to say, "Certain vehicles are safer than others because some vehicles are more reliable, have better performance, are more structurally secure, have advanced safety features, and/or are less likely targets of theft." Drivers of older vehicles could, therefore, be left out of many rides as riders opt for newer cars based on whatever metrics Uber employed to judge a vehicle's health and overall condition.
Uber hasn't been granted the patent yet, and the updated filing comes as the company works past numerous hurdles in recent months. Notably, Uber will now need to regroup its self-driving car operations after one of its vehicles struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona last March.