Uber's Self-Driving Cars Are Back, but Under Human Control
Uber is bringing back its autonomous vehicles in Pittsburg, just four months after the ride-hailing service's self-driving car killed a pedestrian in Arizona and caused the company to end its testing operations.
Following the suspension of the self-driving program, Uber also laid off about 100 self-driver operators in Pittsburg and San Francisco and replaced the positions with newly trained "mission specialists."
The autonomous vehicles will be driven in manual mode by the mission specialists for the foreseeable future.
"We’re starting with cars in manual mode, with a Mission Specialist sitting behind the wheel and manually controlling the vehicle at all times," Eric Meyhofer, Head of Uber Advanced Technologies Group, said in a blog post. "Mission Specialists undergo extensive training to operate self-driving vehicles on our test track and on public roads."
Uber has been re-evaluating its self-driving safety measures after a reported software malfunction caused the fatal accident in Tempe, Arizona, in March. The company is still using the same Volvo XC90 car but is adding new safeguards on the vehicle.
The new features include a driver-monitoring system to help drivers stay attentive while driving. (The person monitoring the autonomous vehicle in the fatal crash was found to be streaming the show "The Voice" until just before the collision.) The system will audio alert the driver if it detects inactive behavior.
There will also be a collision avoidance system that activates emergency braking in situations such as a sudden change in traffic ahead of the vehicle — a feature that wasn't previously in place. All of the cars will have a front tablet built in and designed by the NHTSA’s Human Factors Design Guidance For Driver-Vehicle Interfaces standards. Uber said it has modified certain features to reduce potential distractions while the vehicle is in motion.
"We see manual driving as an important first step in piloting these safeguards," Meyhofer said.
Uber says manual driving creates different scenarios for self-driving cars to encounter on the road, and then allow it to recreate those scenarios virtually and on the test track. The company's engineers are also testing whether the new safety measures can work with the autonomous features while in full self-driving mode.
H/T: Tech Crunch