While Uber has changed the way that many think about transportation, it’s also changed the way that many drunk people find their way home at night. Rather than haphazardly hailing a cab or driving home under the influence, Uber provides a relatively safer way to get from point A to B on an indulgent evening.
TechCrunch reports that the company has been curious about its drunk users, applying for a patent with the United States Patent and Trademark Office for a system that would use machine learning to determine the ‘state’ of a passenger.
While the patent limits itself to a dry discussion of ‘user state,’ it seems that what Uber is really interested in is detecting the difference between users of sound mind and users who are under the influence.
CNN first spotted the patent, which describes a method of measuring the user’s behaviour on their phone against their usual behaviour, using information like location, data input accuracy, data input speed, interface interaction behaviour, the angle at which the user is holding their device, or even the speed at which they’re walking.
The patent also describes a system that would notify drivers of the passenger’s ‘state’, theoretically letting them prepare for the adventure ahead.
The patent says that riders in a particularly unusual state may be matched with drivers who have special training or expertise, or may not be provided service at all.
In the vast majority of cases, hailing an Uber is one of the safest ways for a drunk person to get home. On the other hand, Uber has run into issues with drivers who have sexually assaulted passengers. CNN reports that at least 103 Uber drivers in the US have been accused of sexually assaulting or abusing passengers in the last four years, with many of the police reports noting that the passengers were inebriated or had been drinking before getting into the car.
Notifying drivers when a passenger is drunk could save those drivers the headache of hauling around an out-of-control passenger, or prevent drivers from dealing with passengers who puke in their car, which may lead to disputed charges. But the system described in this patent could also allow for predatory behaviour by malicious drivers.
There is also the broader implication of Uber knowing when you’re drunk.
In a statement, Uber said: “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.”