Uber Pulls the Plug on Autonomous Vehicle Testing in Arizona

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The area around Phoenix, Arizona can say goodbye to the fleet of self-driving Volvo SUVs operated by Uber Technologies. The ride-sharing company, which suspended all on-road autonomous vehicle testing after a fatal pedestrian collision in March, has announced it’s shutting down its operations in that state.

Up to 300 employees stand to lose their jobs.

While the departure hints at a newfound culture of caution and discipline at Uber, it isn’t terminating its self-driving program altogether, nor will its conventional services leave Arizona. The company’s self-driving vehicles could be on the road again this summer.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Eric Meyhofer, head of Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group, informed employees of the pullout in a memo Wednesday. Most of those let go are safety drivers, like the one behind the wheel of the vehicle that hit Elaine Herzberg as she crossed a darkened Tempe street.

While the distracted safety driver did not react in the brief moment the pedestrian was visible, the fact that the vehicle did nothing was cause for alarm. The vehicle’s lidar system should have detected her presence in front of the car from some distance, prompting emergency avoidance measures. This didn’t happen. Uber’s lidar supplier blames the company’s software — a claim backed by an anonymous source who says the Volvo did see the victim, but chose to do nothing.

Accident probes by both Uber and federal investigators are ongoing.

In a statement, Uber claimed it is committed to continuing the development of self-driving vehicles, and that is planned to resume road testing “in the near future.”

“In the meantime, we remain focused on our top-to-bottom safety review, having brought on former NTSB Chair Christopher Hart to advise us on our overall safety culture,” the company stated.

Uber chose to let its California test license lapse in the wake of the Tempe crash, rather than renew it. Testing also shut down in Toronto. Reportedly, the company is in talks to resume on-road testing in Pittsburgh (the home base for Uber’s driverless efforts) at some point this summer.

According to the Washington Post, the company’s interest in California testing hasn’t been extinguished by the collision. Talks are underway with the cities of San Francisco and Sacramento, as well as state officials.

[Image: Uber Technologies]