Uber returns self-driving cars to the road as competitors race ahead

Uber returns self-driving cars to the road as competitors race ahead

The company put its vehicles back into rotation after a fatal accident in March

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After a fatal accident involving one of its self-driving cars nine months ago, Uber is getting its vehicles back on the streets, starting first in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where its first tests started.

San Francisco, California and Toronto, Canada will get Uber's connected cars as well — but with two human drivers in each car. Uber actually put its self-driving cars on the road in Pittsburgh back in July, but the cars were in manual mode — the same mode that cars in San Francisco and Toronto will be. This means that someone will be able to take the wheel at any time.

"Over the past nine months, we've made safety core to everything we do," Eric Meyhofer, head of Uber's autonomous-vehicle program, said in a statement. "This required a lot of introspection and took some time. Now we are ready to move forward."

While Uber has held off from pushing its self-driving cars back into the public eye, autonomous vehicles are still of strong interest to companies, including Uber's competitors. Just this week, Fry's Food, a grocery store chain run by Krogers, replaced its delivery drivers with small self-driving cars. Uber's rival Lyft has run a small, self-driving taxi service since January 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada, and now has 30 cars on the road, completing 5,000 rides as of August. Waymo launched a self-driving taxi service in four cities in Arizona — Gilbert, Mesa, Tempe and Chandler — in just the last two weeks.

However, public perception is fairly dim of vehicles that can drive themselves on the road, all without a person behind the wheel. Back in May, 73 percent of people polled by AAA said that they would be too afraid to drive in a fully autonomous vehicle, with 63 percent saying they feel less safe sharing the road with a self-driving car rather than a human driven car, if they were walking or riding a bicycle.

In Uber's accident in March, a human driver was being the wheel at the time of the crash. Even so, a pedestrian crossing a dark street at night in Tempe, Arizona was struck and killed by the collision.

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