After being pulled for several high-profile controversies and related deaths, Uber's autonomous cars are coming back to roadways.
Eric Meyhofer, head of Uber's Advanced Technologies Group, announced in a recent Medium piece that its self-driving cars would return just four months after a fatal accident caused Uber to stop testing.
"After the tragedy in Tempe, we launched a top-to-bottom review of our self-driving program with a focus on safety. Today, we are taking a first step towards bringing our self-driving vehicles back to public roadways in Pittsburgh," he wrote.
Uber is implementing what's called a Mission Specialist behind the wheel at all times. However, from Uber's description, the "Mission Specialist" position just sounds an awful lot like any other Uber driver. The only difference is that this driver is behind the wheel of a car capable of being put into an autonomous mode.
Meyhofer explained, "We’re starting with cars in manual mode with a Mission Specialist sitting behind the wheel and manually controlling the vehicle at all times. Mission Specialists undergo extensive training to operate self-driving vehicles on our test track and on public roads. The Mission Specialist behind the wheel is primarily responsible for maintaining vehicle safety, while a second Specialist in the passenger seat will document notable events."
The company assured readers that they've done more than ensuring a human in the car pays attention to their surroundings. They've also added real-time driver monitoring to all self-driving vehicles that will send an audio alert to an inattentive Mission Specialist as well as another person monitoring the vehicle's performance. They added new collision avoidance systems that will remain enabled even when the car is in manual drive mode. Uber's autonomous cars will also have a front tablet for turn-by-turn navigation with a reconfigured look to make sure it doesn't distract anyone in the vehicle while the vehicle is in motion.
"Self-driving technology has the potential to change how we move, reinvent how we design cities and save lives. We recognize our responsibility to contribute to this future, and the essential role that safety plays as we move forward," Meyhofer wrote.