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Uber Restarting Testing with New Autonomous Vehicle Model Later This Year

Published on Aug 2, 2019 at 2:01 pm in Technology.

If you live in a more rural part of the country, you might not know that self-driving Ubers have been on the road in some cities since December 2016. Uber claims autonomous driving could reduce traffic deaths by 94% because they eliminate human error. With those numbers, it could bring traffic deaths in the U.S. down from 40,000 a year to 2,400 a year.

While Uber has been testing these self-driving vehicles on the road for years now, they removed them from the roads immediately following the deadly Uber accident last year. Right now, testing is solely at a secret facility in Pittsburgh. But soon, self-driving Ubers will return to traffic.

The Need for More Testing

In March 2018, a pedestrian was killed by a self-driving Uber in Tempe, Arizona. The woman, Elaine Herzberg, was crossing the street when the Uber in autonomous mode struck her. The infrared sensor in the vehicle’s front should have detected her but it malfunctioned. The Uber didn’t even brake before hitting the pedestrian.

This model of Volvo had been altered by Uber to remove its automatic emergency braking system. Uber did this to “reduce potential for erratic vehicle behavior.” The person behind the wheel of these self-driving vehicles is intended to react and take over driving in emergency situations, but that didn’t happen in this case. The human safety driver behind the wheel was distracted by their phone.

After this accident, Uber realized they needed to rework their autonomous driving vehicles and include backup failsafes. Uber and Volvo built backup systems in braking, steering, and battery power for their newest model. If any of these systems fail, the vehicle is designed to immediately stop.

New Autonomous Vehicle Model

In the past, Uber used Volvo SUVs, and this newest generation of self-driving Uber is no different. The autonomous vehicles being tested are Volvo XC90 luxury SUVs, and each vehicle costs about $50,000. On top of the Volvo is a spinning black cylinder that constantly reads surrounding stationary physical markers, like telephone poles and fire hydrants. In the back seat, there is a screen that shows the passenger how the program reads its surroundings to figure out where it is on its course.

Even though the vehicles drive themselves, there are still features for human driving in the car, like a wheel and pedals. That way, a human safety driver behind the wheel can step in and drive during an emergency situation. After the human driver didn’t react properly in Arizona, Uber started testing more safety features in their private facility in Pittsburgh. During their safety review, Uber added a second safety driver to monitor attentiveness.

As an added safety feature, these new vehicles that Uber is testing have a button that the passenger can press that makes the vehicle find a safe place to pull over. This puts the passenger in control more than before. They also only drive at 25 miles per hour or less, which allows the Volvos more decision time while operating.

Uber plans to restart testing these new models in real traffic later this year. As of right now, testing will be in San Francisco and Toronto.

Other Devices Being Tested

Along with the updated Volvos, Uber is testing other vehicles and machines, such as:

  • Electric aircraft. These aircraft resemble helicopters for Uber’s air taxi service intended to launch in 2023. Test flights for the air taxis will begin in 2020 and are only meant for short rides.
  • Drones. Uber is testing drones to deliver food through Uber Eats. They would make delivery faster because a drone does not have to sit in traffic like a driver or cyclist. The drones would deliver the food to landing zones, and then an Uber employee would hand-deliver the food to the person’s doorstep.
  • Electric scooters. These new electric scooters are sturdier than the original models. They provide a more stable ride from bigger wheels and improved brakes. The heavier-duty scooters could help companies like Uber make money off of the scooter sharing services since the frequent breaking of scooters costs them a lot of money.

Although these updates sound productive, there is a lot to be worked out before their launches, especially for the electric aircraft and drones. Flying new equipment in the air space could be dangerous, and so Uber needs to take its time in development to properly set up its parameters.

A crash with an Uber can be complicated enough, but a crash with an autonomous vehicle can make it even more difficult legally. Fortunately, we have lawyers nationwide who can help you after an accident while using a rideshare service. Contact us today and we can consult your case and start working to get you the compensation you deserve.