Nearly eight months after halting all autonomous vehicle testing in Pittsburgh after a test vehicle killed a pedestrian in Arizona, Uber reapplied this past week with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to continue testing. The autonomous vehicles model Volvo XC90’s, used by Uber, returned to the streets of Pittsburgh in July but have been restricted from self-driving mode since then.
Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation expressed it does not have a set deadline for approving or neglecting the renewed application. According to Uber, the company is planning on following non binding guidance provided by the Department of Transportation.
The Department’s spokeswoman said “Our process is voluntary in the absence of having [relevant] legislation, but our expectation is that the companies will follow our guidance.” The Department’s guidance obligates autonomous vehicle companies to record the number of miles traveled by their vehicles, the counties where the vehicles have been tested, the number of jobs created as part of testing, and more.
In an email sent on behalf of Uber, the company’s spokeswoman Sarah Abboud said “Our team remains committed to implementing key safety improvements prior to returning to the road in self-driving mode. Only once we’ve completed these improvements, and retain a letter of authorization from PennDOT, we will return to the road in self-driving mode… We returned our cars to Pittsburgh roads in manual mode this summer for data collection in preparation for the safe operation in self-driving mode.”
Following the submission of Uber’s application to the Department of Transportation, the company issued a 70-page safety report. The report pledged to include two human backup drivers in each vehicle being tests, and activate the Volvo’s automatic emergency braking system in case of an emergency. Uber is now also requiring more training and expertise than before from the employees inside the autonomous vehicles during testing. These employees will now be called mission specialists.
Pittsburgh’s infrastructure and mobility director, Karina Ricks, added “We’re pleased to see their protocols restore having the driver and the safety [secondary] driver together, so you have that redundancy of two people… They have more protocols around how much time the driver can be in the vehicle — just all kinds of practices that will ensure the driver stays alert, stays aware, is dialed in, is ready to take action.” It is yet to be seen if Uber will apply to resume testing in Arizona, California, and Ontario, all places that the company used to hold autonomous vehicle testing in.