Uber self-driving fleet to return to Pittsburgh streets Monday
Uber's fleet of self-driving cars were scheduled to be back on Pittsburgh's streets by the end of the day Monday, an Uber spokesman told the Tribune-Review.
The company grounded its fleet of autonomous vehicles in Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Arizona after a crash in Tempe, Ariz., on Friday.
Cars in San Francisco went back on the road Monday morning, where they are used for mapping and data collection, not to transport passengers. The cars were to return to the road in Tempe on Monday as well.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto's chief of staff, Kevin Acklin, and the city's policy coordinator, Alex Pazuchanics, spoke with Uber representatives Monday afternoon, said Tim McNulty, the mayor's spokesman. Uber offered to share with the city details of the Tempe crash once the company's investigation is finished. The city and company pledged to keep lines of communication open if there is another crash.
“I think that their response was proper. Shutting down operations even though the vehicle was not at fault at least allows people to know that they have more at stake at this than just profit,” Peduto told reporters after being briefed on the conversation by Acklin.
“Nothing is fail proof,” he said. “There's accidents that happen every day in the city of Pittsburgh, and unfortunately fatalities that happen every week. We're at the very beginning of creating safer cars, safer traffic patterns, safer streets but that's still going to be decades away.”
Peduto also talked to Ford on Monday morning about expanding the company's presence in Pittsburgh. Ford invested $1 billion in Argo AI , a self-driving startup in Pittsburgh. The conversation focused on “big partnerships,” Peduto said, like attracting Chariot, Ford's on-demand ride-sharing shuttle service operating in San Francisco and Austin, Texas, and ways to make transportation to major hospitals easier for employees and patients.
Uber pulled its self-driving cars from the streets in Pittsburgh, Arizona and San Francisco because an autonomous Volvo XC90 was hit Friday in Tempe . The Volvo was in self-driving mode but did not have passengers in the back seat. No one was injured.
The Uber was making a left turn at an intersection and was struck by a car that did not yield. Photos from the crash scene show the Volvo SUV on its passenger side. The driver of the car that struck the Uber was ticketed in the crash.
The Tempe Police Department has not released its crash report.
Tempe Detective Lily Duran told the Trib that the investigating officer estimated that the Uber was traveling 38 mph and the at-fault car was going about 20 mph. The speed limit in the area is 40 mph. Duran hoped to make the crash report available later in the week.
The Volvo XC90 SUVs used by Uber in its pilot programs have earned top safety ratings. The 2016 model received five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for front and side crashes.
Uber announced a $300 million partnership with Volvo in August. The company has said it partnered with Volvo because of the brand's reputation for safety and high quality.
Uber said it paused its mapping and data collection operations in San Francisco and its passenger pilots in Pittsburgh and Tempe to better understand what happened in the crash. The company did not go into further detail.
Raj Rajkumar, a leading researcher in self-driving cars at Carnegie Mellon University, said enabling autonomous vehicles to take evasive maneuvers to avoid crashes is something that is being studied. But it is easier said than done.
“We as humans use common sense and logic to deal with things as they arise. Computer software only executes pre-programmed instructions, and the programmer must have accounted for all possibilities that may arise in practice,” Rajkumar wrote to the Tribune-Review. “It is not easy to pre-program what the self-driving vehicle should have done under all possible misbehaviors of other vehicles.”
Uber has been testing self-driving cars in Pittsburgh since May. The company started offering customers rides in its fleet in September. A safety driver sits behind the wheel and can take control of the car if needed. A technician sits in the passenger seat to monitor the car's performance.
Reporter Bob Bauder contributed to this story.