Uber has announced that tests for its self-driving cars in Arizona have been canceled. The company will lay off 300 workers as a result, most of whom are vehicle operators. The decision comes barely two months after an autonomous car owned by Uber hit and killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona. Uber had been testing self-driving cars in this state since 2016. Tests were stopped in the immediate aftermath of the crash. The company was also staring at an indefinite suspension of testing by the Arizona Governor’s office. With all these factors, there was nothing else to do but to shut down the program moving forward.
Investigations into the Tempe crash are still ongoing. The Tempe police is heading the probe with some assistance from the National Transportation Safety Board. The likely cause of the crash and the circumstances that led to it are still unknown. However, Uber has settled with the family of the woman that died. The autonomous car killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg as she was crossing a street in Tempe.
Despite this setback, Uber is still not giving up on self-driving cars. Even though the ride-hailing service will not be conducting tests in Arizona anymore, the company is looking into other locations in order to continue with its program. Pittsburgh and San Francisco have both been mentioned as possible new testing areas. The company will, however, wait until investigations on the Tempe crash are finished before restarting tests. In addition to this, an internal memo by the company said that tests in other locations will be very limited.
A spokesperson from Uber told online news outlets that the company is still committed to self-driving technology. The spokesperson, however, added that in the meantime, the ride-hailing service is focusing solely on its “top-to-bottom safety review.” Uber also brought in Christopher Hart, the former chairman of the National Transport and Safety Board to help with this review.
Self-driving car technology has moved from just a concept to a reality. Many companies have been trying out new cars so far and Uber has been one of the few that has managed to put autonomous vehicles on public roads. Different states have different requirements for allowing the cars on their roads. Special licenses are often required for testing to be done. Uber had sought to test its cars in California but things didn’t go as smoothly as planned.
The company instead chose Arizona. In 2016, there were reports that the ride-hailing service had in fact begun testing self-driving cars quietly on the outskirts of Phoenix. In early 2017, Uber started offering rides on the self-driving vehicles. In its efforts to catch up with other companies in this area, Uber was accused of rolling back important safety requirements. For example, a report on the New York Times revealed that the ride-hailing service had reduced the number of safety drivers from two to one per car. This increased the risk of crashes substantively. Nonetheless, the inquiry on safety is still ongoing and more details may emerge in the coming weeks.