Five months after the fatal crash, Uber's self-driving program could resume by August in Pittsburgh and San Francisco.
Following the well-publicized fatal crash in Tempe, Arizona, earlier this year that struck and killed a pedestrian, Uber’s self-driving taxi service literally came to a crashing end. With investigations underway, the governor of Arizona had no choice but to suspend Uber’s autonomous driving program. But while the accident has put self-driving car technology under scrutiny, Uber was never going to keep the trial suspended for very long. After all, the company has invested millions into the program and will be keen to resume it as soon as possible.
According to a source who spoke with The Information, Uber is planning to resume testing autonomous vehicles in Pittsburgh, and possibly San Francisco, by August. Don’t expect it to return to Arizona, though. Of course, getting the service up and running again won’t be difficult because Uber already has a fleet of Volvo Volvo XC90s equipped with autonomous technology. Winning consumer’s confidence back will be an altogether different challenge, however. According to The Information, Uber will implement as many as 16 changes to improve safety, as recommended by an internal team that “reviewed Uber’s operations after the accident.”
One of the main changes will be an emergency braking system that will help prevent or mitigate collisions if there is a problem with the car’s autonomous driving system. A preliminary report by federal government found that both Volvo's and Uber's autobrake systems were disabled “to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior.” That means it was the operator’s job to be attentive and apply the brakes in an emergency, but it was recently discovered that the city driver wasn’t looking at the road because they were streaming The Voice on their phone. In addition to the new emergency braking system, autonomous Uber vehicles will also now have a second operator as a failsafe.
Uber used to have a safety driver and a co-pilot in its autonomous vehicles but dropped the practice to expand the testing program. Modifications will also be made to the autonomous driving software that will make the system better at detecting objects on the road. According to the publication, Uber had previously adjusted the system’s sensitivity to limit “sudden braking or jerky moves” when an object was detected. The company has also hired former NTSB chairman Christopher Hart to advise Uber on its “overall safety culture.”