Uber’s self-driving cars still need some human assistance, documents show

Aaron Aupperlee/

Safety drivers inside Uber’s self-driving cars in Pittsburgh, Arizona and California had to take control of the car an average of every mile, according to documents obtained by the tech website Recode.

The documents show that last week, Uber’s 43 active cars drove 20,354 miles autonomously but traveled an average of 0.8 miles before the safety driver had to take control, a Recode report stated.

Uber, which has not publicly released data on its self-driving pilot programs, declined to comment on leaked documents.

The documents did not alarm Pittsburgh self-driving car experts and city officials.

“I’m not concerned,” Stan Caldwell, executive director of Carnegie Mellon University’s Traffic21 Institute , wrote to the Tribune-Review.

Caldwell took his first ride in a self-driving Uber last week on Penn Avenue through the Strip District. He said it’s an area where he feels uncomfortable driving because of the pedestrian traffic and close street parking.

“So clearly, Uber is purposely testing in the most challenging environments to advance the technology. We know that automated vehicles need much more research and development and real world scenarios are the best proving ground. What would concern me would be a tester operating on a less challenging highway without incident and giving the impression that the technology is ready for prime time,” Caldwell said.

Tim McNulty, spokesman for Mayor Bill Peduto, said with CMU’s decades of self-driving car research, the city is used to being a testing ground.

“That’s why it’s a pilot program, to test things out,” McNulty said.

Pennsylvania law requires Uber to have a person behind the wheel as it tests self-driving cars. That requirement could change as the state passes autonomous vehicle regulations. The Senate and House Transportation committees are holding a joint hearing Tuesday in Harrisburg to hear testimony about the proposed regulations. Shari Shapiro, Uber’s senior manager of public affairs for Pennsylvania and Delaware, is scheduled to participate in a roundtable discussion.

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