By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Uber Technologies Inc <UBER.N> will put self-driving vehicles on Washington, D.C. roads Friday with human drivers in control, the ride share company said on Thursday, as it seeks to collect data for future deployment of fully self-driving vehicles.
Uber is collecting similar road data to support development of self-driving in Dallas, San Francisco and Toronto with human drivers in control. The goal is for computers to operate the vehicles eventually.
The company said it hopes “this first round of manually driven data collection will lay the foundation for testing our vehicles in self-driving mode in Washington, DC.”
Uber is operating self-driving cars in autonomous mode in Pittsburgh with safety drivers behind the wheel but only during daylight hours.
Uber has taken a more cautious approach to testing since one of its self-driving vehicles killed a pedestrian in March 2018 in Tempe, Arizona, the first death involving an autonomous vehicle.
In the aftermath of the crash, Uber suspended all testing of self-driving vehicles. It resumed testing in December 2018 in Pittsburgh with revised software and significant new restrictions and safeguards.
During manual driving in Washington, Uber said it will use a fleet of three vehicles collecting sensor data using a top-mounted sensor wing with cameras and LiDAR, a detection technology that uses pulsed laser light instead of the radio waves used by radar.
In Washington and other cities with self-driving Uber cars, a second employee will be in the passenger seat.
The National Transportation Safety Board in November faulted Uber for inadequate attention to safety and decisions in the autonomous vehicle involved in the Arizona fatality, as well as the vehicle’s distracted back-up driver.
The crash in March 2018 killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg as she was walking a bicycle across a street at night in Tempe, Arizona. The crash prompted significant safety concerns about the nascent self-driving car industry.
The NTSB criticized Uber’s “ineffective safety culture” at the time, when only one employee was in the front seat.
Separately, Ford Motor Co <F.N> is testing self-driving vehicles without passengers in six cities including Washington with tech startup Argo AI, a company it invested in. Since mid-2019, Ford has been testing vehicles in self-driving mode in Washington with two safety drivers, and has roughly a dozen self-driving vehicles in the nation’s capital.
Argo AI noted Washington “has some of the worst traffic congestion in America, and a very complex street layout.”
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)