Uber’s earnings report could give a clearer picture on self-driving cars

autonomous driving fatalities get the attention of auto insurance companies uber arizona1

With Uber set to release its first earnings report as a publicly-traded company Thursday afternoon, expect to see some updates on the company’s troubled self-driving car program.

Uber suspended the program in March 2018 following a fatal accident involving one of its prototypes. In December, the company announced that it was ready to resume testing its autonomous technology on public roads, and it pledged to put a bigger focus on safety than ever before.

“Over the past nine months, we’ve made safety core to everything we do,” said Eric Meyhofer, the head of Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group, in a statement sent to Bloomberg.

The ridesharing giant planned to resume testing by deploying one or two prototypes on the streets of Pittsburgh. It plans to operate its autonomous cars along a mile-long route between two of its offices in Pittsburgh, with the vehicles traveling no faster than the posted speed limit of 25 mph. The cars will also stay off the road in wet weather and at night. The company will also increase the number of safety personnel inside the vehicle from one to two.

The self-driving program is still a major focus for Uber. The company found three investors — Toyota, Softbank’s Vision Fund, and the Denso Corporation, a Japanese auto parts manufacturer — to provide the program with a big infusion of cash. The Japanese companies invested a combined $1 billion into the self-driving car project, Uber said in April.

The investment is a sign that Uber still sees self-driving cars as the future of the company, but a recent MIT study found that driverless ride-hailing could still be more expensive than car ownership.

Before the March accident in which an Uber test car struck and killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg as she crossed the street in Tempe, Arizona, Uber was operating its self-driving program in four cities — three in the U.S. and one in Canada. The autonomous cars drove at speeds of up to 55 mph, and also operated at night and in various weather conditions.

When Herzberg was struck, the Uber car was traveling at 39 mph at night and its technology failed to spot her in the road ahead. The safety driver is believed to have been streaming a TV show on her phone. Local police described the incident as “entirely avoidable.” It marked a significant setback for the firm, and for self-driving car technology in general.

To enable the restart of its trial program, the San Francisco-based company had to get permission from Pennsylvania state officials, as well as submit a voluntary report to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration detailing all of the safety improvements that it has incorporated into its autonomous car technology. In July, Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation (DOT) tightened up its guidelines for autonomous car testing, resulting in companies being told to submit more detailed information about their operations on the state’s roads.

Uber will need to play catch-up. As the company worked to get its autonomous car program back on track, competitor Waymo scored a big win in December when it became the first company in the U.S. to launch a full-fledged robot taxi service in and around Phoenix.

Updated December 20, 2018: Added information about Uber resuming testing.

Updated May 30, 2018: Added information about Uber’s earnings report and investment into the self-driving car program.


Florida allows autonomous cars to drive on its roads without human supervision

Florida governor Ron DeSantis passed a law that establishes a legal framework for self-driving cars to operate within the state. It allows car and tech companies to test self-driving cars without a human operator behind the wheel.

Will Detroit be the ultimate test for Argo A.I.’s self-driving Ford?

Ford-backed Argo A.I. revealed its third-generation autonomous prototype in Detroit. Based on the Ford Fusion Hybrid, the car is fitted with technology that sees better and further, thinks faster, and is more comfortable to ride in.

Uber’s next self-driving car, a hat-wearing Volvo, will start testing in 2020

Volvo and Uber have unveiled their latest autonomous prototype. It's based on the second-generation XC90, and it's fitted with the self-driving technology Uber developed in-house.

Fiat Chrysler is the latest to partner with autonomous-tech specialist Aurora

Fiat Chrysler and Silicon Valley startup Aurora are joining forces to develop self-driving technology for commercial services, marking the latest in a string of similar collaborations between automakers and tech specialists.

Ford recalls 1.3 million Explorer and F-150 vehicles over safety issues

Ford announced multiple safety recalls on Wednesday, June 12, the largest of which affects 1.2 million Explorer SUVs over an issue with the suspension that has the potential to affect steering control.

Here’s why BMW mechanics now carry smartglasses in their tool chest

BMW technicians in the United States have started wearing smartglasses, and it's not because they're shooting alien ships between oil changes. They use augmented reality technology to access workshop manuals.
Product Review

The last American midsize plug-in hybrid is being squeezed out of existence

The 2019 Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid can’t catch a break. Ford is planning to discontinue production next year, but looming tariffs could spell doom for an otherwise comfortable and very economically sensible sedan.

Watch as Volkswagen’s ID R racer wins the ultimate EV bragging rights

The Volkswagen ID R has set a lap record for electric cars at Germany's Nürburgring Nordschleife. The electric race car's lap time of 6 minutes, 5.33 seconds beat the previous record by 40 seconds.

Tesla screens may support YouTube with next software update

Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced today at E3 that the infotainment screens will support YouTube video streaming very soon. This most likely lines up with the latest software update that is expected later this year.

Volvo has created an autonomous truck that looks like a sports car

Volvo’s autonomous truck, called Vera, is about to start work at a Swedish port. The vehicle has a modest top speed of 25 mph and features a striking design that makes it look as if the usual cab has been swapped for a sports car.

New Toyota tech will automatically shut off engines, apply parking brakes

Toyota is launching two new safety features for the 2020 model year. One will automatically shut off a car's engine when stationary, and the other will automatically shift into park and apply the parking brake to prevent rollaways.

Aston Martin will put its Valkyrie hybrid hypercar to the ultimate test

The Aston Martin Valkyrie will race at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2021. Aston Martin is taking advantage of new rules that encourage automakers to bring their fastest hypercars to the legendary French race.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Florida’s autonomous vehicle law, E3 updates, and more

On this episode of DT Live, we take a look at the biggest trending stories in tech, including Florida allowing fully autonomous vehicles on the road, Atari’s new gaming system, E3 updates, high-speed rail, and more.

It’s not easy being green. Why EVs have a long road to replace gas vehicles

Electric vehicles are all the rage right now, but are they really better than your average gas-powered car? We take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of the technology, and whether or not they're ready for mass adoption.