Uber Ends Self-Driving Car Program in Arizona

Two months after an autonomous Uber vehicle killed a pedestrian in Tempe, the company is shutting down its Arizona operations, but programs in San Francisco and Pittsburgh remain open.

by Benjamin Raven, MLive.com / May 24, 2018

(TNS) — More than two months after one its self-driving cars struck and killed a woman crossing the street, Uber told Arizona-based employees it was ending its self-driving program and laying off about 300 employees in the state.

The process is expected to take "several weeks," The Arizona Republic reported on Wednesday, May 23. In an internal email to employees obtained by Ars Technica, Uber executive Eric Meyhofer said the company would turn its attention to its hubs in Pittsburgh and San Francisco.

"To be clear, we are not shutting down our self-driving program. We are actively working to make our return to the road a reality with a goal of resuming operations in Pittsburgh this summer," he wrote in the internal email. "We are also in conversations with the California Governor, California DMV and cities of San Francisco and Sacramento.

"When we get back on the road, we intend to drive in a much more limited way to test specific use cases in concert with our Software and Hardware development teams. Taking this approach will allow us to continually hone the safety aspects of our software and operating procedures."

Uber's suspended its self-driving operations in Arizona since one of its vehicles struck and killed a woman crossing the street outside of the crosswalk on March 18 in Tempe. The woman killed in the collision was identified as 49-year-old woman Elaine Herzberg. At the time of the incident, Tempe police Sgt. Ronald Elcock said that the pedestrian stepped into the street outside of the crosswalk and was immediately struck by the vehicle.

The death was the first involving an autonomous vehicle being tested on public roads.

Video released by the Tempe Police Department showed Uber's human backup driver with their head down until the moment they realized the vehicle they were behind the wheel of was about to strike someone.

While it voluntarily suspended the service, the once very Uber-friendly Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey suspended the company's self-driving testing privileges due to an "unquestionable failure to comply with" public safety.

The Information cited two sources familiar with the situation that Uber itself believes its self-driving software that chooses how to react when it detects objects in the roadway is the cause of the fatal incident. The report claimed the sensors on Uber's self-driving Volvo detected the woman crossing the street with a bicycle outside of a crosswalk but decided not to immediately act. The outlet reports that the sensors worked, but the failure to swiftly react was due to how it was tuned at the time of the crash.

Two days after the crash, the Tempe Police Department said that it did not appear Uber was at fault in the fatal crash.

The Arizona Republic reports Uber's ride-hailing service will continue in Arizona, and that the company employs about 550 people in the state with plans to hire 70 more. The outlet reports Uber will restart its autonomous operations in Pittsburgh after the federal investigation into the first fatal crash of its kind wraps up.

After Uber ran into some issues with California regarding the program in 2016, Ducey began campaigning for the company to come test its vehicles in Arizona. Ducey took the state's first self-driving Uber ride in February 2017, and added the line that "California may not want you, but Arizona does."

In allowing Uber, and other companies such as Waymo, Arizona only requires minimum liability insurance policies to operate self-driving cars and does not require the company to report crashes or testing information.

Michigan and Arizona share very similar laws when it comes to testing self-driving cars while California requires a $5 million insurance plan, and that the company must report any crashes within 10 days in addition to an annual report detailing the company's test drivers' training.

©2018 MLive.com, Walker, Mich. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.