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Think twice before drinking and...riding? Uber wants to develop AI to determine if a passenger is drunk

A man poses holding a smartphone showing the App for ride-sharing cab service Uber in London on October 28, 2016.
A man poses holding a smartphone showing the App for ride-sharing cab service Uber in London on October 28, 2016.

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Among the many upsides of using rideshare services like Uber and Lyft  is the ability to call yourself a car when you find yourself in a situation where driving would earn you a DUI... The $20 cost of a rideshare is a small price to pay when you compare it to the tens of thousands of dollars it often costs to deal with a DUI charge.

But what if the app where you order your car could tell if you’ve been drinking and tailor its response accordingly?

In a patent filed in 2016 and published last week, Uber says it’s exploring how to develop AI technology that could determine whether someone using the app to order a car is under the influence of alcohol. The feature would rely on an algorithm that would look for things like how long it takes a user to navigate the app and request a ride, walking speed, precision when pressing buttons, and even typos. The app could then decide to, for example, send a driver who is experienced with intoxicated riders or has indicated a willingness to drive them, or to simply not send a driver at all.

If you’re a driver or rider for a rideshare service, what do you think of this idea? Do you think there should be incentives for drivers to pick up intoxicated riders? As a driver, how much of a strain is driving intoxicated passengers?

AirTalk contacted Uber and invited them to participate in our discussion. They declined our invitation but a spokeswoman for Uber sent us the following statement:

“We are always exploring ways that our technology can help improve the Uber experience for riders and drivers. We file patent applications on many ideas, but not all of them actually become products or features.”


Harry Campbell, Los Angeles-based Uber and Lyft driver, founder of the rideshare blog and podcast ‘The Rideshare Guy,’ and author of the book “The Rideshare Guide: Everything You Need to Know about Driving for Uber, Lyft and Other Ridesharing Companies” (Skyhorse, April 2018); he tweets @TheRideshareGuy