Transportation

Uber Layoffs Signal Hard Look at Public AV Testing

The company halted public testing of its driverless vehicles in San Francisco, Toronto, Tempe, Ariz., and Pittsburgh after a fatal collision in Arizona in March.

by Seung Lee, The Mercury News / July 13, 2018
Uber unveiled its flying-car concept on Tuesday, May 8, 2018, saying it wants to do its part to advance the electric air-taxi industry. (Dreamstime/TNS) TNS

(TNS) — Uber’s self-driving car experiments are taking a backseat for now.

After an Uber self-driving car fatally struck a pedestrian in Tempe, Ariz., in March, Uber paused testing of its experimental vehicles on public roads. On Wednesday, it laid off approximately 100 autonomous vehicle operators.

While most of the operators are based in Pittsburgh, some are based in the Bay Area, an Uber spokesperson told this news organization.

“Our team remains committed to building safe self-driving technology, and we look forward to returning to public roads in the coming months,” the Uber spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

The laid-off operators, however, can re-apply for another job at Uber as “mission specialists.” Mission specialists will be trained in both on-road and more advanced test-track operations and are expected to provide more technical feedback to self-driving car developers.

Uber is hiring 55 mission specialists and will prioritize the laid-off employees. Uber also plans to resume its self-driving car operations in Pittsburgh later this summer.

Soon after the fatal car accident on March 18, Uber paused all of its self-driving car operations in Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Tempe and Toronto.

In May, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its preliminary report on the accident. It found that the Uber vehicle that struck and killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg was “operating normally at the time of the crash, and there were no faults or diagnostic messages.” The report also said Uber previously disabled the vehicle’s automatic emergency braking system to prevent erratic driving.

A separate report in June from the Tempe Police Department on the crash said the autonomous vehicle operator behind the wheel was streaming an episode of The Voice on her cellphone and that the operator could have braked the car to stop the accident from happening.

©2018 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.