Is Uber giving up on its driverless car tech?

Uber has just axed the jobs of 100 employees responsible for its driverless car programme Pittsburgh, it has been confirmed. The company’s self-driving car division is in existential turmoil after Uber became embroiled in a fatal crash involving one of company’s high-tech vehicles and a woman in Tempe, Arizona last March.

The San Francisco-based firm informed safety officials who ride in the autonomous vehicles on behalf of the company that their services were no longer needed. The move follows a prudent decision to suspend self-driving tests in North America after tragedy struck in March 2018. However, until now, drivers were kept on the payroll in case the company decided to reboot the venture.

Rather than point to a long-term termination of the venture, officials at Uber are reconfiguring some of the jobs. It appears that Uber plans to replace the redundant roles with 55 mission specialists, positions which require a more technical skill set. Those made redundant in the recent axing will be free to apply for the newly created roles.

An Uber spokesperson said of the reconfiguration, “Our team remains committed to building safe self-driving technology, and we look forward to returning to public roads in the coming months.”

Meanwhile, the community of Tempe, Arizona remains haunted by the fate of Elaine Herzberg, who was hit and killed while crossing a street in the city. Chillingly, a US National Transport Safety Board (NTSB) investigation into the fatality slammed the car’s software, revealing that it had “detected but ignored” the figure of Herzberg before the crash.

But despite recent redundancies, some are billing Uber’s “plough on” approach as a little bullish. Back in March, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi spoke at the firm’s Elevate conference, proclaiming, “Are we doing the right thing? Are we pushing too hard, and is it coming at the cost of safety? …if it is then you have to take a step back. We will win because of the talent of the technical people we have in our offices.”

For some, the Tempe accident was simply too much to stomach, with cries for Uber to rein in public testing lest another bystander fall victim to the onslaught of self-driving cars. For now, Uber remains committed to ameliorating safety systems and driverless technology deployment. And with competitors like Tesla breathing down its neck, we don’t foresee Uber putting the brakes (forgive me) on autonomous vehicle testing for the time being.

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