Uber self-driving cars in Pittsburgh. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
Uber will resume testing self-driving cars on public roads near its Advanced Technology Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Nearly eight months ago, an Uber autonomous vehicle fatally struck pedestrian Elaine Herzberg as she was walking a bicycle across a Tempe, Arizona street in the dark. Immediately following that collision, Uber halted testing its self-driving cars on public roads, with no announced timeline for restarting the program.
According to multiplenewsorganizations, Uber recently filed a request with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to test self-driving cars in Pittsburgh. Uber is not required to secure permission from PennDOT to resume testing, but the ridesharing company has indicated that it will wait for approval of its request. The PennDOT webpage for autonomous vehicle testing states:
There are no current laws, regulations, or policies in effect that require HAV Testers to report HAV testing activities to PennDOT, so the number of testing companies, vehicles, and locations is not known."
The safety reviews highlight many improvements to Uber's safety culture, some of which have been executed already:
Make safety part of the hiring and selection process
Create an anonymous reporting system for safety concerns
Reduce latency in the autonomous driving system
Improve object detection and classification
Propagate uncertainty throughout the software system
Build a consistent set of safety performance metrics
Activate the independent automatic emergency braking (AEB) system at all times
Establish a standalone testing team
Separate the operational safety team from the operational development team
Upgrade the vehicle operator role to a "mission specialist" role
Equip vehicles with third-party driver monitoring
Limit mission specialists to four hours per day in the driver seat
Recruit a Safety and Responsibility Advisory Board
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Uber also states that its current testing procedures require two operators in a self-driving vehicle.
Today, we operate our self-driving vehicles with two Mission Specialists in the vehicle. The Pilot, or operator behind the steering wheel, is solely focused on ensuring safe operation of the vehicle, while the Co-Pilot, the second operator in the right front seat, is tasked with monitoring and annotating the behavior of the self-driving system via a laptop."
Uber's self-driving effort has driven two million miles autonomously, more than any company except Waymo. However, it has also experienced setbacks including the fatal collision in Arizona, a lawsuit with Waymo, the dismissal of group lead Anthony Levandowski, and the departure of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. With new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi at the helm, alongside Uber Advanced Technology Group's new head, Eric Meyhofer, Uber looks to learn from the past and move forward.
I lead the Self-Driving Car Engineer Nanodegree Program at Udacity, which has trained thousands of engineers to work on autonomous vehicles. Udacity students have joined self-driving car teams at companies like Lyft, Mercedes-Benz, and NVIDIA. Prior to Udacity, I was a research engineer at Ford Motor Company. Before Ford, I spent a decade working at Silicon Valley startups. I have an MBA from Stanford University, and a BSE in computer science from Princeton University.