Uber is no doubt one of the most popular ride-sharing apps in the world, and for good reason. Now, the ride sharing app has expanded and applied for a patent to detect drunk passengers. While that may not sound like a ground-breaking, high-tech power play you’d probably expect from a huge brand like Uber, it definitely is something that could potentially save lives in the appropriate situation. According to Uber, the patent would be for specific machine learning upgrades to the app that would be able to detect whether or not a passenger hailing an Uber may be under the influence of alcohol by comparing how they use their phone to other times they use their phone. In other words, it would track everything from how quickly the user uses the app to their location to even how they hold their phone.
Why does Uber need to know whether or not a passenger is drunk or not? There are a few possible explanations for why the company would want to pursue something like this. For example, A drunk passenger could be a liability to drivers for a number of reasons, and as an additional layer of safety, it would allow the app to keep a closer eye on the rides of those who may not be as aware of their surroundings due to alcohol intake.
Although the feature may not be seen in the app for quite some time now, it should also be noted that just because Uber has applied for the patent, that does not mean it will be appearing on our phones in an easily functioning and accurate way, assuming it’s approved to appear on our phones at all. , or even approved. While the feature has a lot of obvious benefits, how much personal information is involved in this potential update means that chances are users will have the option to opt out of sharing the information, or they’ll be given ample notice before changes go into effect.
So how exactly does it all work? The actual technology proposed in the patent is actually quite complex and fascinating. According to The Verge, programmers involved in the creation of the technology have essentially discovered that there are a variety of different indicators in how someone uses their phone that when put together, could suggest being intoxicated. Basically, your phone habits will be alternated when you’re under the influence. When that information is compared with how the passenger in question usually uses their phone, the app would be able to make an informed guess on whether or not the user has been drinking or not. Then, the feature would have the ability to relay that information to the Uber driver, so they’re made aware of any potentially intoxicated passengers and whether they’re a threat to the driver or themselves in any way.
Drinking has increased dramatically in the U.S. alone over the last decade. In fact, 2015 saw a 17 percent increase in heavy drinking from 2005. Some experts are also accounting for that raise with the fact that women are drinking more heavily than in the past, or the fact that it’s more “socially acceptable” for them to do so. However, experts are still conflicted about whether Uber has contributed to fewer drunk driving incidents. But in the past, Uber has embraced its role in helping transport inebriated passengers home, if that means less drinking and driving.
That said, this idea is still very much just an idea and many tech companies from all over the world apply to patents they don’t necessarily ever use. Would you allow Uber to monitor your state?