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Uber will not be renewing its permit to test its self-driving cars in California following a fatal crash in which one of the company’s autonomous vehicles struck and killed an Arizona pedestrian on March 18.
The ride-sharing company withdrew its application to renew the permit near the end of last week, according to a letter sent to the company from the California Department of Motor Vehicles. “By the terms of its current permit, Uber’s authority to test autonomous vehicles on California public roads will end on March 31, 2018,” the letter says.
Following the crash, which killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg in Tempe, Arizona, Uber announced it would be suspending tests in all cities on its self-driving cars. Uber had been testing autonomous vehicles in San Francisco, Phoenix, Pittsburgh and Toronto.
“We decided to not reapply for a California DMV permit with the understanding that our self-driving vehicles would not operate on public roads in the immediate future,” Uber told The San Francisco Chronicle.
If Uber does want to renew the California permit, its future application must include the results of federal investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board and the National Highway Traffic Administration.
The lapse of Uber’s California test permit comes amid questions whether the ride-sharing company used enough radar sensors on its self-driving vehicles. In 2016, Uber scaled back the number of the safety sensors used on its newest fleet of autonomous cars, Reuters reports. Uber’s older self-driving car models featured seven lidar sensors, which use lasers to see the car’s surroundings. The new Volvo SUV self-driving model, which was the model involved in the crash, only has one lidar sensor on its roof.
The reduction in sensors resulted in a larger blindspot on the self-driving car, making it more difficult for the car to detect and process its surroundings, according to five former employees and four industry experts who spoke to Reuters. Additionally, the lidar sensor on the roof has a 360-degree range, but it has a limited vertical range, making it difficult to detect objects that are low to the ground, former employees who operated Uber’s SUVs told Reuters.
Velodyne Linar Inc., the tech company that makes the lidar sensors for Uber and other self-driving car companies, told Reuters that using a single sensor on the roof would create a blindspot of about three meters, and that more sensors were necessary, especially on the sides of autonomous vehicles.
NTSB investigators in Tempe, Arizona, examine the Uber vehicle involved in Sunday’s fatal accident. pic.twitter.com/Zoj4GrnxCT
— NTSB_Newsroom (@NTSB_Newsroom) March 20, 2018
Other companies testing self-driving tech use more lidar sensors than Uber. Waymo and Alphabet Inc’s self-driving cars both have six lidar sensors, and General Motors has five.
Velodyne has defended its technology, saying the overall functions of the self-driving technology is Uber’s responsibility. “In addition to Lidar, autonomous systems typically have several sensors, including camera and radar to make decisions,” Marta Thoma Hall, president of Velodyne, told Bloomberg. “We don’t know what sensors were on the Uber car that evening, if they were working, or how they were being used.”
In a statement to Reuters, Uber said: “We believe that technology has the power to make transportation safer than ever before and recognize our responsibility to contribute to safety in our communities. As we develop self-driving technology, safety is our primary concern every step of the way.”
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