By Benjamin Raven
As Uber announced it would end its self-driving operations in Arizona, it announced that it would refocus its efforts on the program in Pittsburgh and San Francisco.
The only problem with this announcement was the fact that it seemed to not only take Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto by surprise, but rub him the wrong way. Uber executive Eric Meyhofer wrote in an internal email to employees that the ride-hailing service has the goal of resuming its operations in Pittsburgh this summer.
In the email obtained by Ars Technica, Meyhofer alluded the company had been in talks with Pittsburgh as he added, "We are also in conversations with the California Governor, California DMV and cities of San Francisco and Sacramento."
"I made it clear to Uber officials after the Arizona crash that a full federal investigation had to be completed, with strong rules for keeping streets safe, before I would agree with the company to begin testing on Pittsburgh streets again," Peduto said in an official statement posted to the city's website.
"Uber did not tell me of today's announcement, and I was forced to learn about it through social media reports. This is not the way to rebuild a constructive working relationship with local government, especially when facing a public safety matter."
The mayor said that in previous talks with Uber officials and Pittsburgh's Department of Mobility and Infrastructure that the company would have to agree to certain conditions to resume self-driving operations in the city.
These conditions included that any autonomous vehicle never exceed 25 mph while in the city on any street "regardless of legal speed limits," and that it use its driver app to alert human drivers when they are exceeding speed limits.
The Wednesday, May 23 announcement to cease operations and terminate about 300 employees from Uber came a little more two months removed from one its self-driving cars struck and killed a woman crossing the street in Tempe, Arizona.
The death was the first involving an autonomous vehicle being tested on public roads.
In the immediate aftermath, Uber suspended its self-driving operations across the U.S. as a federal investigation proceeded. The woman killed in the collision was identified as 49-year-old woman Elaine Herzberg. Tempe police Sgt. Ronald Elcock said that the pedestrian stepped into the street outside of the crosswalk and was immediately struck by the vehicle.
Shortly after saying the ride-hailing company was not at fault, video released by police showed Uber's human backup driver with their head down until the moment they realized the vehicle they were behind the wheel of was about to strike someone.
The Information cited two sources familiar with the situation that Uber itself believes its self-driving software that chooses how to react when it detects objects in the roadway is the cause of the fatal incident. The report claimed the sensors on Uber's self-driving Volvo detected the woman crossing the street with a bicycle outside of a crosswalk but decided not to immediately act.
The outlet reports that the sensors worked, but the failure to swiftly react was due to how it was tuned at the time of the crash.
Uber originally launched its self-driving cars onto the streets of Pittsburgh back in September 2016. It represented the first time such a service was activated in the U.S.
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