Transportation

Uber Confirms Self-Driving Semi Track Tests

The company has been testing an autonomous truck on a closed Pittsburgh course.

by Aaron Aupperlee, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review / October 23, 2017
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(TNS) -- Uber is testing a self-driving semi truck at its test track in Hazelwood, the company confirmed.

A Tribune-Review reporter and photographer spotted the truck Thursday while flying low over the Hazelwood Green development site with an aerial research photography team for CoStar, a commercial real estate services firm.

Uber spokesman Craig Ewer confirmed that the company is conducting tests with one self-driving semi and that the truck is also used as a prop while testing self-driving car software on the track.

The truck is not being tested on public roads, Ewer said.

In June, Uber tweeted that it had upgraded the technology on its fleet of trucks and was testing them on roads in San Francisco.

We're excited to announce that we've upgraded our trucks with new tech & are now up and running around SF! https://t.co/yOeL6FiZvt

— UberATG (@UberATG) June 29, 2017

Thursday's flyover of Uber's test track provided a rare glimpse at the system of roads the company has built at one end of the Hazelwood Green site. A high fence surrounds the 42-acre track, blocking it from view on the ground.

On Oct. 14, Uber's Advanced Technology Group, which is testing self-driving cars in the city, and the United Hazelwood Design Team, unveiled an 80-foot mural made out of colored cups stuck into the chain link fence. The mural, "Hazelwood Time: Part One," was created by artist Edith Abeyta, put up by residents of Hazelwood and funded by Uber. The mural depicts maps of Hazelwood from 1872, 1950 and 2017 and shows modes of transportation from each era.

A photo of "Hazelwood Time: Part One" after a ribbon cutting of the mural on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017. The mural adorns the black chain-link fence surrounding Uber's test track in Hazelwood.

The owners of the 178-acre Hazelwood Green development site changed its name from Almono on Oct. 13.

CoStar was flying over Pittsburgh to collect images and videos of completed, ongoing and proposed developments to add to its database. The CoStar database had information about 1.2 million square feet of proposed apartments for the Hazelwood Green site.

Wide streets between polygons of green grass could be seen from the air. Traffic patterns included a roundabout and what looks like a five-way intersection. Shipping containers lined the roads, likely mimicking houses and buildings.

A promotional video produced by Uber showed self-driving cars on the test track navigating around parked cars, car doors swinging into traffic, and even mannequins crossing the street in front of them.

At a media event Uber held in September, Noah Zych, head of system safety in Uber's Advanced Technology Group, said the company's vehicle operators undergo a three-week training course that involves classroom work, hours on the company's test track and on-street driving before they can transport passengers.

"So if they should occur on the road, they are prepared and ready to handle them," Zych said at the event.

Uber first made news with its self-driving truck about a year ago when it delivered 50,000 cans of Budweiser beer from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs, Colo. The truck was developed by Otto, a self-driving truck company Uber acquired in 2016 along with its founder, Anthony Levandowski. Uber fired Levandowski, who lead the company's self-driving car efforts, in May when he became the center of the company's legal battle with Waymo, the self-driving car arm of Google's parent company, Alphabet. Levandowski is accused of stealing information from Google before leaving the company to start Otto.

©2017 The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.