Uber seeking patent to spot drunk passengers

Too drunk... to get into an Uber? To some, the concept may be counterintuitive to why they choose to hail an Uber.

But the San Francisco based ride-sharing company is seeking a patent for technology that would detect a potential client's state of sobriety. The information could then be used to determine what type, if any service to provide. 

The patent application comes following numerous cases of passengers attacking Uber drivers as well as incidents of riders accusing drivers of sexual assault.

Many of these cases involved intoxicated passengers. 

The company told KTVU the patent is an example of how it continually seeks new ways to use technology to improve the rider and driver experience, especially as it pertains to safety.

The patent was initially filed in December 2016 to the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. The system would show whether a person is acting "abnormally," based on artificial intelligence and how a customer uses the Uber app.

An algorithm would weigh a variety of factors from typos, how precisely a user clicks, walking speed and the time of day. So it might determine a customer who clumsily types past midnight on a weekend is intoxicated.  

Based on how the system interprets that behavior, the company may adjust how it arranges a match with a driver, according to the patent application.

It's still unclear if the information would then be passed on to drivers. 

Though it appears if the system shows the likelihood of a customer being drunk is high, the company would use that information on what if any type of driver gets called.   

"For example, when the likelihood is comparatively very high, the user may not be matched with any provider, or limited to providers with experience or training with users having an unusual state," according to the patent. "Similarly, when the likelihood is comparatively low (but not non-zero), the system may match the provider normally and provide a notification to the matched provider of the possible state."

The technology is raising concerns over consumer privacy rights. Some privacy experts question whether the information gathered could end up being stored to track health and lifestyle choices of Uber customers.

Others point out the implementation of the technology could clash with Uber’s business model, as many riders use the service to avoid getting behind the wheel after drinking.

If Uber's patent application goes through, customers shouldn't expect the technology to be used any time soon. 

In a statement, the company told KTVU the idea is in the early stages and that it has no immediate plans to implement the system.

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