Car Industry

Uber wants its self-driving cars on the road again

It recently applied to resume testing and released a big report on how the company approaches safety.

Uber

It hasn't been a year since one of Uber's self-driving vehicles accidentally struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, but the transportation company believes it's ready to get back to work soon, as safely as possible.

Uber has applied to bring its self-driving vehicles to public roads in Pittsburgh, the Associated Press reports. Alongside this news, Uber released a 70-page safety report, covering the entirely of Uber's self-driving-vehicle development from soup to nuts, starting with high-level reasoning for believing in autonomy, and finishing with details of how it will work through each stage of development.

Representatives the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation did not immediately return a request for comment, and Uber pointed to CEO Dara Khosrowshahi's introductory letter in the safety report as its official statement. A spokesperson for Uber also noted that there is no timeline attached to bringing its self-driving cars back to public roads.

The most notable update to its policy, which the AP also noted, is the new requirement of having two safety drivers in each vehicle. The one behind the wheel, called the Pilot, will focus entirely on the current situation, ensuring safe operation. Another sitting shotgun, called the Co-Pilot, will be monitoring and taking note of the vehicle's behavior using a laptop. Previously, Uber ran many of its vehicles with just a single safety driver, but in its safety report, Uber notes that having two people in each self-driving car "reduces workload and potential for fatigue, distraction or misuse."

Uber's primary vehicle for its AV development is the Volvo XC90, which contains a veritable cornucopia of its own driver-assist systems.

Uber

The driver was one of the major sticking points of the fatal crash in Tempe. In June, it was reported that the Uber-branded Volvo XC90's sole safety driver was streaming "The Voice" to her phone via Hulu at the time of the accident and was "distracted or looking down" for almost one-third of the 20 minutes preceding the incident.

However, the driver was far from the only imperfect element that factored into the event. According to the National Transportation Safety Board's preliminary report, Uber deactivated Volvo's own built-in autobrake system, in addition to its own, citing the potential for erratic vehicle behavior on public roads. The system also lacked a method of warning the safety driver to brake for an oncoming object.

In addition to its safety report, the company published a supplemental report that summarized both the internal and external reviews that took place following the crash. One important point in the supplemental report is that an automatic emergency braking system will now always be active on public roads in Uber's self-driving vehicles, operating independently of the self-driving system.

According to Uber's safety report, while it does intend to finish building out its own bespoke self-driving platform that it will affix to partners' cars, those won't be the only self-driving cars in Uber's ecosystem. Eventually, Uber would like to open its network to other self-driving platforms that are developed, owned and operated by partners or third parties. Uber also discussed bolstering its own platform in the future with additional ultrasonic sensors and a vehicle interface module, in addition to the litany of radar, lidar and cameras its vehicles currently wield.

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