After a few broken laws and operating without a permit last year, Uber is bringing its self-driving vehicle pilot back to some of the nation's busiest roadways.
Having obtained a new permit Wednesday, two self-driving Volvo SUV prototypes operated by Uber will soon return to California streets.
Though the vehicles will not yet pick up passengers as a part of Uber's usual service, the relaunch is a step forward for the company following a swift collapse of an initial San Francisco pilot in December. Originally operating without permits — because the company claimed its vehicles didn't meet the "self-driving" classification — the ride-hailing company's vehicles failed to detect and subsequently ran six red lights.
As part of Uber's newly minted authorization, the California Department of Motor Vehicles also approved 48 passengers who will sit in the driver's seat so they can take control of a self-driving vehicle, should it malfunction.
Following the previous tiff with state regulators, Uber issued a statement that the company was "100 percent committed" to delivering safe and effective technology to the state's roadways, while also ramping up pilots in Pittsburgh and a Phoenix suburb, where customers can purchase a ride from one of the company's self-driving cars. Uber did not respond in time for publication to comment on when this service would become available in California.
At least 27 companies — including names like Google, Tesla Motors, BMW, Ford, Honda, and graphics card manufacturer NVIDIA — have been issued permits to operate self-driving vehicles in the state, according to the agency website. Google operates the most self-driving vehicles in the state, by far, with permits for 77. General Motors and Tesla Motors operate 27 and 24 vehicles, respectively, while most other companies operate one to four.
Uber's self-driving vehicle relaunch comes at a time when a majority of Americans report feeling unsafe sharing the road with fully autonomous vehicles. Survey results released Tuesday by AAA found that more than 75 percent of drivers said they were "afraid" to ride in a fully self-driving car, while only 10 percent said they would "feel safer" sharing the road with such vehicles.
Fear of technology and its actual safety record are often mismatched. The odds of being in a plane crash are on the order of 1 in 11 million, and more than 95 percent of plane crash victims survive, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Proponents of self-driving vehicles maintain that the technology is much safer than traditional vehicles. Google's track record of traveling 1.8 million miles and logging just 13 minor accidents — all of which were caused by human drivers of the other vehicles — is a commonly cited example.
In January, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration concluded a six-month review of Tesla Motor's Autopilot system following a May 7 crash in Florida that resulted in the death of the driver. Regulators concluded that no "safety-related defect trend" was found.