UPDATED 22:32 EST / JULY 24 2018


Uber self-driving cars return to the road but only with a ‘manual’ driver

Uber Technologies Inc.’s self-driving cars are returning to the road four months after one struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, but with a twist: The vehicles will be operated in “manual” mode, that is, manually driven by a driver.

“We’re starting with cars in manual mode, with a Mission Specialist sitting behind the wheel and manually controlling the vehicle at all times,” Uber said in a post on Medium. “Mission Specialists undergo extensive training to operate self-driving vehicles on our test track and on public roads. The Mission Specialist behind the wheel is primarily responsible for maintaining vehicle safety, while a second Specialist in the passenger seat will document notable events.”

In other words, someone with a driver’s license will be driving the vehicle rather than Uber’s self-driving technology, which at least has killed fewer people than Tesla Inc.’s, which has three fatalities.

Moving forward despite not trusting it enough to use alone, Uber said it has implemented a number of new features that it believes will assist the technology in not running down pedestrians in the future.

Those new features include real-time monitoring of drivers to make sure they’re paying attention, collision avoidance systems that are claimed to assist the vehicles in not hitting pedestrians, and interface changes for “Minimizing Potential for Distraction from In-Vehicle Screens.”

Uber added that it has also implemented training and policy improvements that “specifically focused on safe manual driving,” including “dedicated time in defensive and distracted driving courses” as well as rigorous training prior to operating a self-driving vehicle so that its manual drivers can “uphold high levels of performance” — that is, not run over pedestrians.

Uber’s self-driving cars operated as normal cars will soon be appearing on the streets of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the last place it has a license to operate the vehicles after its license was revoked in Arizona and it decided to not renew a license to operate in California.

Photo: zombieit/Flickr

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