Uber shuts down self-driving testing in Arizona; lays off 300

Gladys Abbott
May 25, 2018

More than two months after one its self-driving cars struck and killed a woman crossing the street, Uber told Arizona-based employees it was ending its self-driving program and laying off about 300 employees in the state.

In allowing Uber, and other companies such as Waymo, Arizona only requires minimum liability insurance policies to operate self-driving cars and does not require the company to report crashes or testing information.

On March 18, an Uber self-driving auto struck and killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, who is believed to be the first person to die because of an autonomous vehicle.

Uber was also suspended from self-driving auto tests in Arizona by the state's governor Doug Ducey.

"We're committed to self-driving technology, and we look forward to returning to public roads in the near future", Uber said in a prepared statement.

Uber has no plans to stop its autonomous vehicle research altogether, and plans to restart its operations in Pittsburgh and San Francisco once investigations into the Tempe incident are complete. A safety operator behind the wheel appeared to be looking down, and not at the road, moments before the crash, according to video from inside the auto released by police. The vast majority of vehicle tests haven't been done on public roads, and the cars are still learning how to drive.

The firm is also conducting a "top-to-bottom safety review" of its self-driving programme, including software and training.

Test drivers were apparently still being paid during the program freeze, at least until Wednesday's firings.

A leaked email from Uber executive Eric Meyhofer to the company's Arizona employees telling them Uber will be closing down its testing operations in the state. Email via Ars Technica

The tech company also expects to resume testing its self-driving cars on public roads in Pittsburgh this summer.

In talks with company officials, I and the city's Department of Mobility and Infrastructure additionally required conditions with Uber before Pittsburgh would agree to testing.

Instead, Uber is doubling down on its efforts in the Pittsburgh and San Francisco engineering hubs.

Uber will need to reapply for a permit to test in California.

The San Francisco-based company, which has faced a spate of scandals and retreated from overseas markets, said quarterly profits were $2.5bn, due largely to the sale of business units in Russian Federation and south east Asia.

Today's decision does not affect the company's ride-sharing service with drivers operating their own vehicles. The crash is believed to be the first time a pedestrian has been killed by a self-driving vehicle anywhere in the world. The Governor suspended Uber's ability to test on state roads.

Instead, the vehicle struck pedestrian Elaine Herzberg after she stepped out into the road.

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