Uber's Self-Driving Cars Return to San Francisco

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【Summary】Only two of Uber’s autonomous Volvo XC90 SUVs will be testing publicly and will only be tested during daylight hours.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Apr 21, 2020 6:00 AM PT
Uber's Self-Driving Cars Return to San Francisco

Following the fatal accident in Arizona involving one of Uber's autonomous vehicles and a pedestrian, the ride-sharing company removed its vehicles from San Francisco. Now, nearly two years later, Uber has returned to San Francisco, California. But it's returned with some strict guidelines.

Uber Returns To San Francisco

Uber brought its self-driving vehicles back to the city on March 10, but the company is incredibly cautious about how testing will be completed. "Our testing area will be limited in scope to start," an Uber spokeswoman said in a statement with CNET. "But we look forward to scaling up our efforts in the months ahead and learning from the difficult but information road conditions that the Bay Area has to offer."

Unlike before, Uber will only have two autonomous Volvo XC90 SUVs on the road. Those machines will have two safety drivers – one in each of the two front seats. While the cars will operate on public roads, they will only be operated during daylight hours and won't be allowed to carry any passengers. The outlet claims that Uber is waiting to complete an infrastructure update to its system before expanding its autonomous program in the city.

The decision to bring its autonomous cars, even if it just a few SUVs, is good news for Uber, which could really use some right now. After the fatal accident in Arizona, Uber practically shut its autonomous program down, pulling all of its self-driving vehicles that were testing on public roads. Before the end of 2019, government officials came out with a report that pointed blame toward the vehicle operator and Uber. The latter came under fire for having an "inadequate safety culture."

Uber's Long Journey In California

Uber was granted a permit to resume testing in California last month, revealing that Uber is approaching its new series of testing with more precaution than before. After the fatal crash, it took Uber just a few months to put its autonomous vehicles back on the road in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The company's cars were also brought back to Toronto; Dallas, Texas; Washington, D.C.; and San Francisco, California, but were operated by safety drivers at all times.

In light of the fatal accident, Uber's made some changes to its vehicles in the name of safety. Now, Uber requires its safety drivers to have a substantial amount of training and work fewer hours. Also, two safety operators must be present in the vehicles at all times. Other updates were made to the vehicle's software systems, including improved tracking of pedestrians and automatic emergency braking systems.

Uber's had a difficult time testing bringing its autonomous cars to San Francisco. Uber first launched in the city back in 2016, but failed to secure the proper permits to do so. That little oversight saw the state department practically kick Uber out, leaving it to move to Arizona. Not too long later, Uber and San Francisco were friends again and the company received the proper permit to test its driverless vehicles in the city. Once again, Uber's vehicles were pulled off the street after the fatal accident in Arizona. Last month, California issued a new permit to Uber to allow the company to legally test cars in the state. At the time of writing, Uber's fully autonomous cars are being tested in San Francisco and Pittsburgh.

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