Uber Stops Self-Driving Truck Tests After Autonomous Car Fatality

March 20, 2018 by Michelle Rafter, @MichelleRafter

Uber Technologies Inc. ceased operation of its self-driving trucks after one of its autonomous cars struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona on Sunday.

The stop is part of a larger testing suspension the company instituted that covers all Uber self-driving operations in Tempe, Ariz., Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto.

The fatality occurred on Sunday night in Tempe, and is believed to be the first pedestrian death involving a self-driving car. An Uber vehicle operating in autonomous mode with a human operator in the front seat struck a woman as she was crossing the street outside of a crosswalk. The woman was taken to a local hospital and later died of her injuries.

The National Transportation Safety Board and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are investigating. Uber is fully cooperating with authorities and investigations of the incident, according to a company spokesperson.

It’s unclear whether other companies testing self-driving trucks are following suit. Waymo, the Alphabet-run autonomous vehicle venture, has been testing self-driving trucks in California and Arizona for the past year. Waymo did not respond to immediate request for comment.

Several other companies piloting self-driving vehicle temporarily suspended their own tests to review safety procedures.

Toyota Motor Corp. said Tuesday it would halt testing self-driving cars on public roads in what it refers to as Chauffeur mode following the Uber collision.

“We cannot speculate on the cause of the incident or what it may mean to the automated driving industry going forward. Because we feel the incident may have an emotional effect on our test drivers, we have decided to temporarily pause our Chauffeur mode testing on public roads,” the automaker said in a statement.

Also on Tuesday, the Boston Transportation Department stopped an autonomous vehicle test it was conducting with Nutonomy and Optimus.

“The Boston Transportation Department will be working with both companies to review their safety procedures to ensure each program can move forward,” Gina Fiandaca, the city’s transportation commissioner, said in a statement.

Fiandaca called the move, “a precautionary measure.”

Uber started testing autonomous trucks in Arizona in late 2017 as part of an experiment to blend self-driving and conventional driver-operated trucks. The company used human drivers to deliver freight to transfer hubs on Arizona’s eastern and western borders. The loaded trailers were then hooked to self-driving tractors to be hauled across the state.

Because of state laws, human drivers remain behind the wheel of self-driving trucks. As of earlier this month, Uber had not recorded any safety-related incidents, a spokesperson for Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group told Trucks.com at the time.

Outside of Arizona, Uber has tested self-driving trucks near its San Francisco headquarters and at an autonomous vehicles test center near Pittsburgh.

The self-driving truck tests are run through Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group. It also manages the Uber Freight service, a smartphone app launched in May 2017 to match drivers with available loads near them.

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