‘Small Handful’ of Uber Self-Driving Cars Back on Pittsburgh Streets

Dec 21, 2018

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On Thursday, Uber officially resumed tests of its self-driving cars on Pittsburgh roads, about nine months after one of its autonomous vehicles was involved in a fatal accident.

The ride-hailing giant had announced it received approval from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation on Wednesday, and a day later, it said a “small handful” of the self-driving cars had hit the streets in Pittsburgh, one of the cities where the company had suspended self-driving operations following the fatal crash.

“Today we are resuming on-road testing of self-driving operations in Pittsburgh,” Eric Meyhofer, Uber’s head of advance technologies, wrote in a blog post Thursday. “This follows the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s approval and months of vehicle testing on our track and manual driving on Pittsburgh streets.”

After one of Uber’s self-driving cars hit and killed a pedestrian as she crossed the street at night in March in Tempe, Arizona, Uber suspended its autonomous vehicle testing in Arizona, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto. Shortly after, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey revoked Uber’s ability to test the vehicles in the state.

Now cars will only operate in self-drive mode in Pittsburgh during daylight hours on weekdays, excluding holidays. They will not pickup passengers for the time being, and for now will only operate in certain areas of Pittsburgh’s Strip District.

Uber says it has made numerous safety upgrades to the cars after the March crash. The company’s new self-driving protocols now require two backup employees to be in each autonomous vehicle during testing and enforces stricter monitoring for the backup safety drivers, with a camera that detects a distracted backup driver. This is important because the backup driver in the vehicle at the time of the March crash was streaming a TV show on a tablet device. Uber also added new technology for cars’ automatic emergency braking systems and improved detection and tracking of pedestrians and cyclists.

The ride-hailing firm also said its self-driving cars would be returning to Toronto and San Francisco, but those cars would only be operated in manual mode for the foreseeable future.

Featured image by ANGELO MERENDINO/AFP/Getty Images.

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