Automotive & Aftermarket News

Uber’s Self-Driving Program is Back Behind the Wheel After Fatal Crash Last Spring

Uber Vehicle Accident

Investigators examine Uber’s autonomous Volvo XC90 SUV that fatally struck a pedestrian in Tempe, AZ, earlier this year. (Image/National Transportation Safety Board via AP)

In only nine months, a single-cell zygote can grow into a viable human baby inside its mother’s womb. Here’s hoping the same time span was long enough for Uber to implement some needed safety improvements for its autonomous vehicle program.

On December 20, after receiving authorization from Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation earlier in the week, Uber officially resumed testing its driverless cars on public roads for the first time following a fatal accident last March, in which one of them struck and killed Elaine Herzberg, 49, as she was crossing a road in Tempe, AZ.

Over the past nine months, Uber has continued to test the cars in manual mode to collect data and make changes.

“We will continue to prioritize safety and proactively communicate our progress until we’ve built a self-driving system that lives up to the promise of making transportation safer and more affordable for everyone,” said Eric Meyhofer, who heads up Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group, in a prepared statement.

The vehicle involved in the crash, a Volvo XC90 SUV, was equipped with sensors capable of detecting Herzberg—and indeed did detect her about six seconds before impact, the National Transportation Safety Board found in a preliminary report—but it wasn’t programmed to stop for obstructions. Driver Rafaela Vasquez, who was looking at her phone until just before the crash, didn’t brake until after impact. She could still face charges in the incident, which has created a lot of questions about liability.

According to a Bloomberg report, Uber’s latest foray into autonomous vehicle testing will be more limited from a standpoint of scope and speed. The car will be held to a speed limit of 25 mph and is restricted to a one-mile loop in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. Additionally, the test vehicles are required to have two drivers (i.e. “mission specialists”) at all times during operation.

It’s fair to wonder how far along Uber’s driverless vehicle capabilities have come along over the past nine months. In fact, the New York Times reported that the company’s autonomous vehicles were still failing 10 out of 70 safety tests as recently as last month.

Still, the program’s progression back onto public roadways in any capacity marks a notable turnaround for something that seemed destined for the scrap heap only a few months ago. Uber officially ended operations in Arizona in May and let go of all 100 of its self-driving car operators in Pittsburg and San Francisco soon after, according to an article from TechCrunch.

If you want to read more on the status of Uber’s autonomous vehicle program and the legal implications surrounding it, check out some of the stories below.

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2 Comments

  1. Hmmmm…now why would Uber have such a determined push for driver-less vehicles? Are you paying attention? The big picture intent is to get the human driver out of the picture all together. Can you say, “Huge profits?” and a dependancy on them for transportation?
    Think about the implications regarding individual privacy. Dependancy on “robocars” means your ever move in public goes into a database somewhere. I can’t speak for others but I CHERISH my liberty AND my privacy.
    I LOVE to drive. I LOVE driving’s potential to escape from everything, if only for a short while. To get behind the wheel of a favored vehicle and just cruise, thoughts wandering as the miles roll beneath the wheels, a favored tune on the radio as the scenery washes past the window, well, to my mind there are few things more beneficial to my mental health. All said and done, I’ll drive myself, thank you very much.

  2. Why have a drivers licence? I feel this is the dumbest ideas anybody can come up with.I hope i never see one of these in my rear view. Wait till some deranged idiot hacks into the program of one of these vehicles and causes complete chaos or death.

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