Uber is looking for OK to continue the self drive tests in Pennsylvania

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Uber Technologies Inc. has asked Pennsylvania for permission to resume the road test on public roads and improve the autonomous vehicle software, the company said on Friday, more than seven months after completing tests after a fatal accident Arizona.

FILE PHOTO: A car passes the spot where a female pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, USA, was beaten and killed on 19 March 2018 by a self-propelled Uber self-propelled driver. REUTERS / Rick Scuteri / File Photo

In a report to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the company said it would continue the tests with two front-seat employees, activate an automatic braking system at all times, and monitor security personnel more closely.

Uber tested self-driving cars in manual mode on public roads.

In June, police in Tempe, Arizona announced that a driver was distracted at the wheel of a self-driving Uber and broadcast a television program on their cell phones until the car hit a pedestrian, killing the road that shook the burgeoning industry "completely avoidable" stopped.

The crash was the first fatality due to a self-driving vehicle and was seen as a major setback for the industry, which focused on the commercial use of vehicles.

Dara Khosrowshahi, chief executive of Uber, said in a statement Friday that the company will resume road testing after "improved processes" have been implemented.

Uber said that there is now real-time third-party monitoring of safety drivers, that drivers can work each day, and that training has been improved.

In July, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation announced that it had issued new guidelines requiring companies to submit details of the tests and expected companies to adhere to them.

A spokeswoman for the agency said on Friday that she had received the request and would examine it.

The state said it would send companies a letter of approval after approving their submissions. Uber said it would not continue the tests in Pittsburgh until it received this letter.

Alphabet Inc's Waymo (991) plans to open a commercial vehicle service in Arizona this year, while General Motors Co (GM.N) is well on its way to roll out a similar service with vehicles without steering wheels or brake pedals next year.

The authorities in Pittsburgh, where Uber debuted its self-driving vehicles in 2016, said they welcomed the cars on the city streets.

"I think we've strengthened the trust," said Karina Ricks, director of the Urban Department of Mobility and Infrastructure, citing a second employee in certified cars and more transparency from Uber.

After the Tempe accident, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto refused Uber's permission to resume autonomous driving before a full state investigation into the crash occurred.

"One of the problems with Uber was that they seemed to be moving too fast," said Ricks. "They were a little crazy about their technology."

The crash raised considerable questions about the performance of Uber's software.

Uber said a key recommendation of an internal review after the Tempe crash is to improve the "overall software system design" of self-driving vehicles. Uber said in its safety report released on Friday that the vehicle has improved "system latency" so it can detect objects and actors earlier and more quickly trigger safe responses.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which is conducting an investigation, said in May that Uber had recorded observations of the pedestrian about six seconds before the impact. However, only 1.3 seconds before the impact, the system had determined that emergency braking was required.

The NTSB said that the vehicle registered the pedestrian, who first cycled across the road, as an unknown object, then as a vehicle and finally as a bicycle.

GRAPHICS – How self-driving cars see the road – tmsnrt.rs/2FToUeq

Uber said there was a new approach to "managing uncertainties within the self-driving system". Uber also has a new separate test team for systems engineering and plans a self-propelled safety advisory board for external experts. If a vehicle is unsure, the software is now better able to "think about many possible outcomes to ultimately arrive at a safe response," she added.

The NTSB also said Uber had disabled a manufacturer-installed automatic emergency brake system in the Volvo XC90 2017 while the car was under computer control to "reduce the potential for unpredictable vehicle behavior."

This braking system is now always active when Uber tests on public roads, it was said on Friday. She has also submitted a voluntary safety assessment to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and has published a report from an outside law firm that has reviewed safety culture in Uber. The agency has been continuously investigating the Tempe crash.

Reporting by David Shepardson. Additional coverage by Heather Somerville in San Francisco. Cut by Nick Zieminski and Richard Chang

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