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Uber shutters self-driving project in Arizona two months after fatal accident

Uber is ending its self-driving program in Arizona, focusing its efforts instead on existing operations in Pittsburgh and San Francisco, where the company has its headquarters.

The decision comes two months after one of its autonomous vehicles struck and killed a pedestrian during a test drive in the Arizona city of Tempe. Uber’s self-driving program has been off the road nationwide since then.

Around 300 jobs are expected to go as a result of the closure, most of them safety drivers who monitor the robot cars as they navigate the city streets.

New approach to testing

In a widely reported internal email sent to employees this week, Uber executive Eric Meyhofer said the company would be taking a new approach when it resumes testing of its self-driving cars, likely starting in Pittsburgh this summer.

“When we get back on the road, we intend to drive in a much more limited way to test specific use cases,” Meyhofer wrote in his message.

He said that such an approach “will allow us to continually hone the safety aspects of our software and operating procedures. We have also used the past two months to strengthen our simulation capability, which will allow us to be more efficient with our use of road miles.”

The incident in March was a serious setback for the entire autonomous-vehicle industry as it works to convince a skeptical public of the potential benefits of the technology.

Arizona was one of the first U.S. states to actively encourage companies to bring their self-driving technology to its roads.

State governor Doug Ducey said at the end of 2016 that Arizona “welcomes Uber self-driving cars with open arms and wide open roads.” But following the fatal accident, Ducey suspended Uber’s authorization to test its autonomous vehicles on Arizona roads until further notice.

With its self-driving cars still parked in the state, the company has now decided to shutter its autonomous-vehicle program there. Other companies, among them Waymo, GM, Ford, and Toyota, continue to test their technology in Arizona, while in the neighboring state of California, more than 50 companies have self-driving cars on the road.

Despite March’s tragedy and the serious challenges it presents, Meyhofer was keen to end his message on a positive note, telling employees: “I appreciate your staying the course during this difficult time and truly believe that together we can realize the potential of this technology.”

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Trevor Mogg
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