By on May 23, 2018

The area around Phoenix, Arizona can say goodbye to the fleet of self-driving Volvo SUVs operated by Uber Technologies. The ride-sharing company, which suspended all on-road autonomous vehicle testing after a fatal pedestrian collision in March, has announced it’s shutting down its operations in that state.

Up to 300 employees stand to lose their jobs.

While the departure hints at a newfound culture of caution and discipline at Uber, it isn’t terminating its self-driving program altogether, nor will its conventional services leave Arizona. The company’s self-driving vehicles could be on the road again this summer.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Eric Meyhofer, head of Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group, informed employees of the pullout in a memo Wednesday. Most of those let go are safety drivers, like the one behind the wheel of the vehicle that hit Elaine Herzberg as she crossed a darkened Tempe street.

While the distracted safety driver did not react in the brief moment the pedestrian was visible, the fact that the vehicle did nothing was cause for alarm. The vehicle’s lidar system should have detected her presence in front of the car from some distance, prompting emergency avoidance measures. This didn’t happen. Uber’s lidar supplier blames the company’s software — a claim backed by an anonymous source who says the Volvo did see the victim, but chose to do nothing.

Accident probes by both Uber and federal investigators are ongoing.

In a statement, Uber claimed it is committed to continuing the development of self-driving vehicles, and that is planned to resume road testing “in the near future.”

“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,” the company stated.

Uber chose to let its California test license lapse in the wake of the Tempe crash, rather than renew it. Testing also shut down in Toronto. Reportedly, the company is in talks to resume on-road testing in Pittsburgh (the home base for Uber’s driverless efforts) at some point this summer.

According to the Washington Post, the company’s interest in California testing hasn’t been extinguished by the collision. Talks are underway with the cities of San Francisco and Sacramento, as well as state officials.

[Image: Uber Technologies]

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12 Comments on “Uber Pulls the Plug on Autonomous Vehicle Testing in Arizona...”

  • avatar

    “In a statement, Uber claimed it is committed to continuing the development of self-driving vehicles, and that is planned to resume road testing ‘in the near future.’ ”

    Presumably this time with fewer resulting fatalities.

  • avatar

    I think it was an autonomous Uber vehicle that crashed in Roswell, NM in 1947. Those weren’t alien bodies they found, those were safety drivers who were texting when they struck a large cactus.

  • avatar

    Eh. I rode in a human-driven Uber this morning, and the human driver ran a red light and came rather close to hitting a pedestrian. Even after the crash I’m not convinced the robot cars are worse than the conventional ones.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, luckily you will not be able to push a bicycle in front of a Uber XC90 in CA to find out whether you’re correct. Your human Uber driver may have run a red light and “almost” run down a pedestrian, but he made those decisions presumably deliberately. The Uber XC90 in Tempe was completely blind and unreactive.

  • avatar

    What the industry needs are smart safety vests that autonomous vehicles can readily and unambiguously detect. It would make it safer for cyclists, highway construction workers, and pedestrians. I’d wear one if I lived in a city that allowed testing of autonomous vehicles.

  • avatar
    Kalvin Knox

    Good Riddance.

  • avatar
    Kalvin Knox

    Good Riddance.

  • avatar

    Those 300 people all have blood on their hands.

    I hope they can’t sleep at night.

  • avatar

    Good for traffic. They often travelled, particularly up and down Scottsdale Road, in convoys- I’ve seen as many as 15 of them traveling in a group. And they weren’t actually taking anyone anywhere.

    So yes, good riddance. Besides, I hear their system is nowhere near Google’s.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I don’t understand why they would stop this testing only in Arizona – political reasons or legal reasons, or both?

    I’d love to hear the internal legal discussions at these AV companies, and how they justify absorbing the liability on Level 4 and 5 systems of the future.

    Does anyone know what SAE level the Uber cars claim to be? They’re certainly not Level 2; I’m guessing Level 4.

  • avatar

    Those politicians, that supposedly represent their constituents, involved with allowing this live-testing should be promptly replaced…

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