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Uber is Shutting Down its Self-Driving Operations in Arizona

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【Summary】After being involved in the industry’s first fatality involving a self-driving vehicle, Uber is permanently shutting down its autonomous testing operations in Arizona. The company will instead focus on testing in Pittsburgh and San Francisco.

Eric Walz    May 23, 2018 3:26 PM PT
Uber is Shutting Down its Self-Driving Operations in Arizona

After being involved in the industry's first fatality involving a self-driving vehicle, Uber is permanently shutting down its autonomous testing operations in Arizona. The company will instead focus on testing in Pittsburgh and San Francisco.

The tech company announced on Wednesday it will layoff 300 Uber workers in Arizona. Most of those impacted by the layoffs are vehicle operators, who were paid to monitor the vehicles during tests, ready to take over if necessary. Uber said it will provide outplacement services to help them find new jobs.

In March, one of Uber's self-driving Volvos struck and killed a pedestrian, Elaine Herzberg, while she was walking her bicycle across the road in Tempe. The vehicle was operating in autonomous mode at the time of the crash. The safety driver monitoring the vehicle was distracted and looking looking down in the moments before the crash.

It was the first known fatality involving a fully autonomous vehicle, which rocked the nascent industry. Uber suspended its operations immediately after the accident and they never resumed.

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A self-driving Uber Volvo XC90, the same model that fatally struck Elaine Herzberg

Arizona had been widely regarded as the most welcoming state for self-driving vehicles. In December 2016, after Uber's autonomous vehicle registrations were revoked in California for not having the required permit, the company shipped their fleet of self-driving Volvos to Arizona instead. Arizona governor Doug Ducey said at the time that "Arizona welcomes Uber self-driving cars with open arms and wide open roads."

But following the fatality, Uber and Gov Ducey had a falling out. The Governor suspended Uber's ability to test on state roads.

Waymo, the self-driving unit of Alphabet has also tested autonomous technology alongside Uber in the Phoenix metro area. Waymo plans to launch an autonomous ride-hailing service there later this year.

The incident brought attention to Uber's self-driving technology, and whether it's good enough for public roads. Reports suggested that Uber's autonomous driving software may have been tuned to flag the detection of the pedestrian as a "false positive."

After the accident, Waymo CEO John Krafcik said that Waymo's advanced technology would have detected the pedestrian in the roadway much sooner than Uber's vehicle did. "We're very confident that our car could have handled that situation" he said in March.

The fatal crash is still being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board investigation. Uber said it plans to resume tests on public roads in Pittsburgh this summer once the NTSB's preliminary report has been released.

"We're committed to self-driving technology, and we look forward to returning to public roads in the near future," Uber said in a statement. "In the meantime, we remain focused on our top-to-bottom safety review, having brought on former NTSB Chair Christopher Hart to advise us on our overall safety culture."

After the incident, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi ordered a "top to bottom" safety review of Uber's self-driving program at its Advance Technologies Group in Pittsburgh.

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