In an article posted to Medium yesterday, Eric Meyhofer, Head of Uber Advanced Technologies Group, confirmed that the firm has resumed on-road testing of its self-driving cars. Uber’s autonomous vehicles were off the road for nine months following a fatal collision with a cyclist who was crossing the road in Arizona in March.
Elaine Herzberg, aged 49, was wheeling her bike across a street in Tempe when the Uber vehicle struck her, causing fatal injuries. The back-up driver, Rafaela Vasquez, was reported to have been watching an episode of The Voice on her phone.
Earlier this week, we reported how a manager at Uber had warned bosses at the company of the risks associated with self-driving cars just days before she was killed.
In an email, Robbie Miller, who left Uber shortly afterwards, wrote: “The cars are routinely in accidents resulting in damage.
“This is usually the result of poor behavior of the operator or the AV technology. A car was damaged nearly every other day in February. We shouldn’t be hitting things every 15,000 miles. Repeated infractions for poor driving rarely results in termination. Several of the drivers appear to not have been properly vetted or trained.”
Miller had previously worked for Google’s self-driving car operation, and added: “At Waymo I would not have been surprised if the entire fleet was immediately grounded for weeks or longer if a vehicle exhibited the same behavior.”
In 2016, Uber began testing its cars on public roads just two days after a cycling campaigner had pointed out they were making unsafe turns across cycle lanes. The firm conceded there was a problem but said that engineers were, “continuing to work on [it].”
Announcing that self-driving Ubers had been approved to the streets of Pittsburgh by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Meyhofer wrote: “Over the past nine months, we’ve made safety core to everything we do. We announced our first set of safeguards in July, completed comprehensive internal and external safety reviews, and released our Safety Report in November.
“We implemented recommendations from our review processes, spanning technical, operational and organizational improvements. This required a lot of introspection and took some time. Now we are ready to move forward.”
He said the firm had reviewed and improved its testing program, “to ensure that our vehicles are considerate and defensive drivers. Before any vehicles go out on public roads, they must pass a series of more than 70 scenarios without safety-related failures on our test track. We are confident we’ve met that bar as we reintroduce self-driving vehicles to Pittsburgh roadways today.”