Uber Technologies Group has officially resumed on-road testing of its self-driving vehicles, nine months after the company halted its entire autonomous vehicle operation after one of its vehicles struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona. The relaunch follows the State’s decision to authorize Uber to put its autonomous vehicles on public roads.
It also marks a notable turnaround for a program that less than a year ago appeared destined to end for good. Only two vehicles are being tested for now, though more will be added. The cars won’t exceed the posted speed limit of 25 mph and will have two safety drivers in them at all times or “Mission specialists” as uber calls them. ” For now, the cars aren’t picking up any passengers.
This downsized version of Uber’s self-driving program reflects the extent to which the company’s had to reassess its grand plan to conquer urban transportation with robot taxis after the July crash.
Uber said it will resume testing with two employees in each autonomous vehicle, enabling Volvo’s factory setting for automatic braking, and strictly monitoring safety drivers. The company said it now has real-time third-party monitoring of backup safety drivers, it sets limits on the amount of time drivers can work per day, and it has improved training.
These employees will be limited to four hours behind the wheel in a workday and must take a break and switch positions every two hours. The remainder of the workday will be spent on other responsibilities outside of the vehicle, an Uber spokesperson said.
Uber says it made technical changes to its self-driving software to improve detection and tracking of pedestrians and cyclists, and to drive more defensively, as well as the addition of a driver monitoring system, which detects a distracted operator, sounds an audible alert in the cabin and immediately sends a notification to a remote monitoring team for review and escalation.
In a break with the past, Uber is now working closely with regulators and third-party experts to build trust. According to the Pittsburg Mayor’s spokesperson, Uber has “accepted established state guidelines, demonstrated transparency, and conformed to our expectations in addressing the unique conditions of a complex urban environment, the city is satisfied that self-driving testing operations by Uber will not introduce an increased level of safety risk on our roads.”