There will be no more self-driving vehicle testing by Uber on Arizona's public roads, according to an internal company email sent by Eric Meyhofer, head of the company's advanced technologies group, on May 23.
"As you know, there's been a public call for the suspension of our self-driving program on Arizona's public roads and we have decided to refocus the bulk of our efforts in our engineering hubs in San Francisco and Pittsburgh," he said in the email. "To be clear, we are not shutting down our self-driving program. We are actively working to make our return to the road a reality with a goal of resuming operations in Pittsburgh this summer. We are also in conversations with the California Governor, California DMV and cities of San Francisco and Sacramento."
He added that when Uber restarts its self-driving tests – which were suspended in March following a pedestrian fatality in Tempe, Ariz. – the company intends to "drive in a much more limited way, to test specific use cases in concert with our software and hardware development teams. Taking this approach will allow us to continually hone the safety aspects of our software and operating procedures. We have also used the past two months to strengthen our simulation capability, which will allow us to be more efficient with our use of road miles."
[Side note: a preliminary report issued by the National Transportation Safety Board noted that the Uber self-driving vehicle in the Tempe crash "did not determine emergency braking was necessary" to avoid a collision until 1.3 seconds before impact. Yet automatic braking maneuvers weren't engaged and the driver was expected to intervene if braking was needed.]
Uber's move comes after a new poll by AAA finds that trust in autonomous vehicles is slipping among the U.S. public.
The latest survey from the group's multi-year tracking study (conducted May 22) indicates that consumer trust in self-driving vehicles has "quickly eroded," with three-quarters (73 percent) of American drivers reporting they would be "too afraid" to ride in a fully self-driving vehicle, up significantly from 63 percent in late 2017. Additionally, two-thirds (63 percent) of U.S. adults report they would actually feel less safe sharing the road with a self-driving vehicle while walking or riding a bicycle, noted Greg Brannon, AAA's director of automotive engineering and industry relations.
"Despite their potential to make our roads safer in the long run, consumers have high expectations for safety," he said. "Our results show that any incident involving an autonomous vehicle is likely to shake consumer trust, which is a critical component to the widespread acceptance of autonomous vehicles."
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