Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired Uber’s Self-Driving Cars Are Back on Pittsburgh Streets

Hexbyte Tech News Wired Uber’s Self-Driving Cars Are Back on Pittsburgh Streets

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired

Uber self-driving vehicles begin testing again in Pittsburgh Thursday, nine months after one of its autonomous vehicles struck and killed a woman. The company says it has since revamped its self-driving program.


They’re back. A small number of self-driving cars being developed by Uber will return on Wednesday to a handful of public roads in Pittsburgh. It’s the company’s first foray into live vehicle testing since one of its Volvo XC-90 SUVs struck and killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg in March while she was crossing the street in Tempe, Arizona.

The ride-hail giant says its spent the nine-month hiatus rethinking its testing program. It says it recruited a former federal safety official to conduct an external review of its autonomous vehicle program. It says it changed the way it hires and trains the “mission specialists” who watch the autonomous software to ensure no one gets hurt. It says it reverted to putting two people in every car, as most of its competitors do. It says it added a camera-based driver monitoring system to the cars, which Uber says can detect and then audibly harangue a distracted safety driver. It says it reactivated the Volvos’ automated emergency braking systems, which a government watchdog panel found had been turned off before the March crash. Uber also says it has grown its safety systems engineering team “substantially,” according to a spokesperson, with more specialized developers focused on keeping the tech safe, not just improving it.

The top execs who oversaw the program in the years and months leading up to the fatal crash remain in place. “Over the past nine months, we’ve made safety core to everything we do,” Eric Meyhofer, the head of Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group, wrote in a blog post published Wednesday.

Uber also has made moves to appease regulators and politicians. The company released its own voluntary safety self-assessment report in November, a document with some details on its approach to safety. (Federal highway safety regulators suggested—but did not demand— in a set of guidelines published in fall 2017 that the self-driving developers doing testing on public roads release these reports.)

On Monday, Uber became the fourth company to be designated an “authorized highly automated vehicle tester” by Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation. (The DOT began authorizing companies in mid-October.) The application required that the company submit a Safety and Risk Mitigation Plan, with details on its testing and validating processes for self-driving software and hardware, and information on when and how it intended to test. For now, just a “handful” of automated vehicles will roam Pittsburgh’s Strip District, where Uber’s advanced technologies group is headquartered. The self-driving vehicles will not carry passengers for the time being, as they did before the March crash. They will only operate on weekdays, during the day and in good weather.

In addition, Uber said it would begin driving its AVs manually in San Francisco (the company’s headquarters) and in Toronto, where its artificial intelligence lab is based, collecting data for training and mapping purposes. It would not disclose when self-driving testing might resume in those cities. Arizona, though, is out. Governor Doug Ducey banned Uber self-driving cars from his state after the March crash. The company fired its safety drivers in that state and has no plans to return.

The relaunch comes amid reports of neglect in Uber’s self-driving team in the months leading up to the fatal Tempe crash. Current and former employees told Business Insider that safety drivers were distracted by the number of tasks they had to perform in the testing vehicles, and that the self-driving team was under pressure to ramp up the number of miles its cars drove.

The Information reported earlier this month that, in the days leading up to the Tempe crash, a test vehicle in Pittsburgh suddenly swerved off the road and onto the sidewalk, then kept driving. An Uber spokesperson confirmed that a testing operations manager sent a letter to Meyhofer about the incident before the Arizona crash, demanding that the team reexamine its internal safety practices, and noting that “these types of incidents are routine on car ops.” The spokesperson said a “full internal review” of the incident had begun, but that after the crash, it was “rolled into the larger review” of the self-driving program.

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Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired Uber’s HR Troubles, Elon’s Cave Rescue, and More Car News This Week

Hexbyte Tech News Wired Uber’s HR Troubles, Elon’s Cave Rescue, and More Car News This Week

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

Every so often, WIRED gets to take a good, long sojourn behind the scenes, to observe what the people we write about are doing all day. This was one of those nice weeks.

Editor Alex Davies hopped a plane to Winnemucca, an isolated mining town in northern Nevada that’s hosting Alphabet’s latest moonshot: its effort to spread the gospel of internet via broadcasting balloons. Senior writer Jessi Hempl got under Uber’s hood after the announcement that HR chief Liane Hornsey—the woman brought in to fix the unicorn’s culture—resigned for improperly handling allegations of racial discrimination. Contributor Wendy Dent got the scoop on Elon Musk’s attempt to build some kind of vehicle that would help the Thai youth soccer team escape a cave complex. And I was a fly on the wall at this year’s Automated Vehicles Symposium, where the movers and shakers of the AV sector discussed their triumphs, their limitations, and how to talk about those limitations in public.
It was a week! Let’s get you caught up.

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Uber’s Self-Driving Crash, Elon’s Twitter Rage, and More Car News This Week

Uber’s Self-Driving Crash, Elon’s Twitter Rage, and More Car News This Week

Nothing will make you believe that time is a deeply personal experience than seven days like those the WIRED transportation desk just lived through. No surprise, Elon Musk was at the center of it all. Between detailing his plans to tunnel under Los Angeles, the ongoing struggle to build the Tesla Model 3, and an epic Twitter tirade slamming the media, the high-profile CEO kept America’s transportation reporters chained to their desks. Then on Thursday morning, the National Transportation Safety Board released its preliminary report on Uber’s fatal self-driving crash in March, providing fresh details on what the car saw—and why it couldn’t avoid killing pedestrian Elaine Herzberg. Plus, some good things happened.

So yeah, it’s been a week—and it has felt like a lot more. Let’s get you caught up.


Stories you might have missed from WIRED this week

  • Thursday morning, federal investigators looking into a fatal collision between a pedestrian and a self-driving Uber released their preliminary report, laying out the facts of what happened the night of March 18 in Tempe, Arizona. Aarian and I break down the two big takeaways: training self-driving systems is really hard, and the way Uber relies on human safety operators is pretty questionable.
  • Last week, Elon Musk hosted an informational session to talk about his idea for creating a network of tunnels underneath Los Angeles, through which cars could ride on electric skates at 150 mph. We had lots of questions about how, exactly, some of this will work, and Aarian ran some of Elon’s bolder claims by a few tunneling experts. The engineers don’t dig everything the Boring Company is putting down.
  • Meanwhile, Tesla seems to be getting better at mass-producing the Model 3. This week, Tesla announced it will soon start making more variants of the electric sedan available. Too bad, Jack reports, the new options also happen to be the most expensive ones.
  • There’s no better indicator that self-driving cars are on their way than California’s Public Utilities Commission realizing it needs to get involved. The regulator (which holds sway over various transportation enterprises) has laid down proposed rules to govern robocars that enter commercial service, and they’re quite strict: no charging users, no shared rides, and lots of data reporting. These would be just to start, but developers fear that once established, some of these rules could become permanent.
  • On a more fun note, Aarian and I spent some time playing God urban developers, and imagined how cities could look once self-driving cars truly arrive. Expect to see lots of lobbies, zero zombies, and a new thing called “nests.”
  • Tesla is not the only automaker packing cool tech into cars. We sent contributor Eric Adams to drive the new Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid, which prescreens your route to provide the perfect mix of battery and engine power. As the Germans might say, klug!
  • Here in the US, Jack brings news of college students who spent four years converting Chevy Camaros into something entirely unexpected: eco-friendly muscle cars.

Teens of the Week

The fact that the children are the future isn’t always encouraging. Here to tip the scales toward the endurance of the human race are the seniors at East High School in Rockford, Illinois. For their graduation prank, these kiddos filled the school’s parking lot with dozens of Lime dockless bikeshare bikes. Class of ‘18 rules, cars drool.

Required Reading

News from elsewhere on the internet

  • If you need to know more about Musk’s beef with journalists and his plan to create a “media credibility rating site” called Pravda, The New York Times has got the full breakdown. Just be sure to give them a good rating!

  • Almost immediately after ditching a policy that bound employees to forced arbitration, Uber is facing its first test: A former software engineer is suing the ride-hailing giant, alleging sexual abuse and discrimination, The Wall Street Journal reports.

  • Looking to cause nearly $100 million in damage? Miss a few recall notices, ship your Ford Escape to Belgium, and have it catch fire on the boat ride over—and destroy about 1,000 other cars in the process. Jalopnik has an exclusive account of this very unexpected story.

  • Toyota remains, somehow, really serious about this hydrogen-powered cars thing. Reuters reports that the Japanese automaker is getting ready to start mass production of fuel cell stacks.

  • The wild space that is the shared electric scooter market continues to grow, and now Lyft is considering getting involved, according to The Information.

  • After abandoning grand plans to build its own self-driving car, Apple is working with Volkswagen to put its zeros and ones on wheels, the Times reports.

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