Uber CEO wants to restart self-driving car tests this summer

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RANCHO PALOS VERDES, Calif. — After a fatal March accident caused by one of its self-driving cars near Phoenix, Uber pulled out of Arizona but vowed to resume autonomous car testing as soon as federal agencies investigated the crash.

Although there as yet been no timetable for Uber’s return to testing in San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Toronto, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi suggested it would be very soon.

“We’ve got to get back on the road, but we have to be absolutely satisfied that we’re getting back on the road in the safest manner possible,” Uber CEO  Dara Khosrowshahi said at the Code conference here Wednesday.

The chief executive said that after further tests confirm their cars can operate safely, “we will get back on the road over the summer,” he added. 

A woman in Tempe, Arizona was hit and killed by an Uber self-driving car in March. Uber ceased operations in Arizona in the wake of the accident. Uber was also testing self-driving cars in Pittsburgh, Toronto and San Francisco. 

A preliminary finding from investigators suggested that the Uber car’s sensors, which were on board a Volvo SUV, did detect the pedestrian as she crossed in the dark well before the moment of impact. But the computer’s decision regarding what to have the car do given her presence was delayed, and the safety driver behind the wheel was distracted.

Since being named CEO in August, 2017, Khosrowshahi has been on an apology tour, after a rough patch that began with a blog post by a former female engineer complaining of sexism and harassment at the company, coupled with dissent from drivers and consumers upset about rising prices.

“We’re a different kind of company now,” he said. “Our values are different. The fact that (customers) had a negative viewpoint of Uber 2-3 years ago was hurting our brand.”

At Code he said Uber would go public in 2019, “but first I need a CFO,” he noted, in reference to a position at Uber that’s been open since 2015. 

In the interview, he said his relationship with Google (which runs Uber’s self-driving rival Waymo) was better, and said he’s talking to the company about putting its cars in the Uber self-driving network. 

“Owning or being a part of the largest ride-share network on a global basis will enable you to get the highest utilization out of your autonomous cars.”

Uber and Waymo were locked in a bitter trade-secret lawsuit that was settled shortly before a court verdict was set to be handed down earlier this year. Uber gave Waymo a an equity stake in Uber.

Beyond Google and Uber, the companies have plenty of rivals investing in self-driving technology, including the major car companies like General Motors, Volkswagon and Nissan. 

Follow USA TODAY’s Jefferson Graham (@jeffersongraham) on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. 

 

 

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