Uber is putting its self-driving cars back on the road again in Pittsburg, PA less than 9 months after the tragic crash of one of its automated cars into a woman who was crossing the street outside of a crosswalk with her bicycle. This tragic accident occurred in Tempe, Arizona and the woman died after arriving at a hospital from her injuries.
The self-driving test-car did have a human back-up driver. Unfortunately police records reveal that the show The Voice was being streamed into the car at the time the accident occurred. This should not have surprised Uber executives who had been warned by an employee about the ‘dangerous behaviors’ of some back-up drivers.
As a result, Uber removed all of its driverless cars from Tempe and shut down its test program in other cities as well until now.
During the intervening months Uber put its Automated Technology Systems (ATS) division, which oversees the automated cars, under strict protocols reviewing all of its technology in every area of development for improved safeguards, safety reviews and safety reports.
Some of the changes which are being implemented and/or improved by Uber are:
1. Each test car although automated will have 2 human back up drivers in the front – one behind the wheel one riding shotgun just in case of an emergency.
2. It will also have cameras in the cars with audible alerts to bring to attention drivers who may become distracted. If this happens the event will be reported to a monitor team and those cars and drivers will not be able to accept any more passengers until scrutiny is complete for both cars and drivers.
3. Uber has also changed the shift hours of drivers to 4 hours down from 8 – 10 hour shifts.
4. And the maximum speed for the self-driving cars has been reduced to 25 mph down from 55 mph.
Eric Mayhofer, Uber’s head of advanced Technologies, says, “This required a lot of introspection and took some time. Now we are ready to move forward.”
Uber which is based in San Francisco, CA received permission this week from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to begin using its test cars in the Pittsburg’s Strip District which is located along the Allegheny River in Downtown Pittsburg. These test-cars are restricted to the area and driving only during daylight hours. The collision in Tempe, AZ occurred at night.
While these experimentations are going on in Pittsburgh others are being carried out in San Francisco and Toronto, Canada.
However, the self-driving test cars being permitted in those cities will only be in manual mode driven by human drivers. This restricted purpose is to teach and orientate the technology system built into the cars with the different circumstances it will encounter so that it will know how to react when they switch to autonomous driving without human interaction.
The theory behind autonomous driving is to cut down on accidents caused by human error. If the driver in Tempe had been paying attention he would have had time to switch on the auto brake system and the accident might not have occurred.
So will we really be any safer with self-driving cars? Perhaps someday as the systems are refined?