Self-driving vehicles

The big timeline of Uber’s 2 years of testing self-driving cars in Pittsburgh

Its autonomous vehicles are back on roads, but they aren’t picking up riders.

uber_two_year_evolution
The Incline photos and illustration
MJ Slaby

Two years ago, reporters from across the country flocked to Pittsburgh for two days of secretive media briefings on a new pilot program from Uber.

The company had opened its Advanced Technologies Group here the previous year and was already testing autonomous cars on Pittsburgh streets. But two years ago Friday, Uber started allowing ride share users to be picked up and dropped off in its self-driving cars.

While Uber wasn’t the first autonomous vehicle tester in Pittsburgh — or the latest one — the company has been the most visible, both on the streets and in headlines. But Uber paused testing for nearly four months this year after a fatal crash in Arizona, effectively ending the pilot program for riders for now.

Uber’s autonomous vehicles returned to Pittsburgh streets in July, but the cars have remained in manual mode, and there is no timeline for a return to picking up ride share users, the company confirmed to The Incline Monday.

So how did we get here? Here’s a look back at the last two years:

Uber's fleet of autonomous Ford Fusions from 2016

Uber's fleet of autonomous Ford Fusions from 2016

Jared Wickerham/ For The Incline

Sept. 14, 2016

Several thousand of Uber’s “most loyal customers” got an email inviting them to Uber’s self-driving vehicle pilot, making Pittsburgh the first place where ride share users could ride in Uber’s fleet of Ford Fusions with two Uber employees in the front seats.

The move prompted reporters from around the country to come to Pittsburgh to cover the program’s launch. Mayor Bill Peduto, known as an advocate for the new technology, was one of the first to take a ride and posed for a selfie with then-Carnegie Mellon University President Subra Suresh.

Sept. 24 and 26, 2016

Quartz reported two incidents involving Uber’s self-driving cars. On Sept. 24, another car had “tapped the fender” of a self-driving Uber near Bigelow Boulevard and Herron Avenue in Polish Hill, Quartz reported. Uber later confirmed the car was in manual mode at the time.

Two days later, one of the cars was spotted driving the wrong way on Atwood Street, a one-way in Oakland.

Oct. 18, 2016

A self-driving Uber was in an incident near Coffey Way and Sixth Avenue in Downtown. The incident, first reported by The Inclineappeared to be a fender bender, but Uber didn’t provide details and city police said they were not notified.

Oct. 26, 2016

The second wave of Uber’s self-driving vehicles, the Volvo XC90, were starting to be spotted around Pittsburgh as the company moves to replace the Fusions with this second fleet.

Nov. 18, 2016

Speaking to a room full of leaders from across the country at the National League of Cities conference, Peduto advocated for self-driving vehicle testing and said while governments are risk adverse, entrepreneurs aren’t and that’s why partnerships like the one between Pittsburgh and Uber work.

Dec. 6, 2016

Pennsylvania’s Autonomous Vehicles Testing Policy Task Force gave its findings to PennDOT Secretary Leslie S. Richards. Members of the task force advocated for testing and development to continue in the Commonwealth, but also recommend a priority on safety and allowing PennDOT oversight in various areas. However, industry members of the task force including Uber’s Shari Shapiro took issue with some recommendations for reporting requirements from developers.

Dec. 14 to 21, 2016

Uber started allowing ride share users in San Francisco to hail self-driving cars. However, the move quickly sparked a clash with the California DMV and Uber pulled the cars on Dec. 21 to send them to Arizona to expand testing there.

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Uber's second fleet of self-driving vehicles were these Volvo SUVs.

Jasmine Goldband / The Incline

2017

Jan. 28 and 29, 2017

Protesters descended on airports across the country in opposition of President Donald Trump’s immigration and refugee executive order. The New York Taxi Workers Alliance asked for support by calling for drivers to avoid the John F. Kennedy International Airport for an hour. So when Uber said it was turning off surge pricing — that is, lowering prices around the airport — many saw it as a lack of support despite Uber stressing that wasn’t the case.

The next day, during the protests at Pittsburgh International Airport, Peduto said he texted Uber CEO Travis Kalanick to say that he was disappointed in what happened in New York and that Kalanick had a position on Trump’s business advisory group.

Feb. 3, 2017

In a one-on-one interview with The Incline, Peduto revealed that he was disappointed by Uber multiple times in 2016 and that he was concerned about the company’s relationship with the city.

Feb. 10, 2017

Ford announced that a then little-known artificial intelligence startup, Argo AI, would develop the “virtual driver system” for Ford’s autonomous vehicles, thanks to a $1 billon investment from the automotive company. This brought the number of self-driving vehicle developers in Pittsburgh to four — Argo AI, Carnegie Mellon University, Delphi and Uber.

Feb. 24, 2017

Ten Pa. state senators including four from Allegheny County — James Brewster (D), Jay Costa (D), Wayne D. Fontana (D) and Randy Vulakovich (R) — introduced Senate Bill 427, legislation that built on previous attempts to create rules for testing self-driving cars in the state. The bill was referred to the Pa. Senate Transportation Committee.

March 14, 2017

Six months into its Pittsburgh pilot program, Uber expanded pick-up and drop-off zones for riders in autonomous vehicles from Downtown, the Strip District and some surrounding areas to nine neighborhoods: Bloomfield, Downtown, Garfield, Lawrenceville, North Shore, Point Breeze, Shadyside, Squirrel Hill, and Strip District.

March 21, 2017

Members of the Pa. House and the Pa. Senate transportation committees met for a hearing about self-driving cars and the proposed SB 427, which created laws for that testing. They listened to testimony from experts, as well as from industry experts. The latter were the most critical of the bill and pushed for more flexibility for testers.

March 24 to 27, 2017

A self-driving Uber Volvo was hit by another car in Tempe, Arizona when the driver of that car failed to yield. The crash caused the Volvo to roll onto its side. In Pittsburgh, Uber grounded its self-driving fleet as the company looked into the crash, and the cars returned here three days later.

April 27, 2017

Anthony Levandowski, the head of Uber’s self-driving group, stepped down after being accused of trade-theft by his former employer Waymo, Business Insider reported. He was replaced by Eric Meyhofer, who worked at Carnegie Mellon University before joining Uber.

May 3, 2017

A fifth self-driving vehicle company joined the scene in Pittsburgh. Aurora Innovation’s founders included a former Uber employee who worked at the ATG in Pittsburgh, TribLive reported.

June 20, 2017

Travis Kalanick stepped down as the CEO of Uber, The New York Times reported. The move followed an intellectual property lawsuit from Waymo, a federal inquiry about a software tool that Uber used to avoid law enforcement, and a slew of complaints and investigations about the company’s culture of sexual harassment and discrimination.

June 28, 2017

State Rep. Jim Marshall (R) of District 14, which includes parts of Beaver and Butler counties, introduced House Bill 1637, creating a house bill on self-driving vehicle testing to accompany the Pa. Senate bill. The bill is currently in the House Transportation Committee.

Sept. 14, 2017

Pittsburghers marked one year of riding in self-driving cars.

In that time, Peduto went from outspoken advocate to criticizing the company to telling The Incline that the city and company were working to move forward in its second year.

Sept. 18, 2017

Uber grounded its self-driving fleet for several hours after an Uber Volvo was in a crash near Sidney and Hot Metal streets on the South Side, TribLive reported. Only Uber employees were in the vehicle, and no one was hurt.

Sept. 20, 2017

To mark the one-year anniversary of its pilot program, Uber revealed updates including an upgraded fleet of Volvo XC90s and plans to move to just one vehicle operator.

Oct 26, 2017

Uber continued expanding its testing area and more self-driving Volvos were spotted in the North Hills. The company told The Incline that the cars were gathering data about an area that’s popular for the company’s ride-share service.

Dec. 11, 2017

House Bill 1958 was introduced and addressed allowing highly automated work zone vehicles, with or without a human operator, and platooning with a human operator in each vehicle. (The bill was passed by the Pa. House on March 13, 2018 and is currently up for first consideration in the Senate.)

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Uber shows off the updated version of its self-driving Volvo.

Jared Wickerham / for The Incline

2018

Jan. 18, 2018

A box truck ran a red light on the North Shore, crashing with an Argo AI self-driving vehicle. This marked the first time that people were sent to the hospital after a self-driving car crash in Pittsburgh. 

Jan. 23, 2018

Uber’s new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi was at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland and told Bloomberg News that he wanted to remove humans from Uber’s driverless cars as soon as 2019. In Pennsylvania, that would require a change in state law.

Feb. 8, 2018

While Uber’s self-driving vehicles have the most evident branding, other testers continued to expand in Pittsburgh. That included Argo AI which had noticeably more cars on the north and south sides of the city.

March 18, 2018

A self-driving Uber, in self-driving mode, struck and killed pedestrian Elaine Herzberg in Tempe, Ariz., the first death involving an autonomous vehicle, the Associated Press reported. Herzberg was walking a bicycle outside of a crosswalk at night when she was hit by the car. Uber immediately stopped all testing in the Phoenix area, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto. A police report later revealed that safety driver of the autonomous Uber, Rafaela Vasquez, was watching “The Voice” moments before the crash, AZ Central reported.

March 26 and 27, 2018

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey suspended Uber’s ability to test self-driving vehicles in that state, and Uber said it wouldn’t renew its testing permit in California, which expired March 31, CNN reported. In Pennsylvania, that decision would have required a change in state law, and Peduto said he wanted to wait for investigations by Tempe police and the National Transportation Safety Board in Arizona to be complete before changes were made.

April 9 and 10, 2018

The 2018 Pennsylvania Automated Vehicle Summit was in Pittsburgh and included industry and government leaders. On the first day of the summit, Richards outlined a new action plan giving PennDOT interim oversight of self-driving vehicle testing until state legislation could be put in place. Most notably, the plan asked testers for a slew of information including about the vehicles, operators, testing routes and more.

May 23, 2018

Uber told employees in Arizona that it was ending its self-driving program there to focus on Pittsburgh and San Francisco. Per an internal email from Meyhofer, Uber’s goal was to start testing in Pittsburgh again sometime in the summer. This news sparked a public back-and-forth between Uber and Peduto, who released a stern statement outlining conditions for Uber’s return. The mayor later said he asked all autonomous testers to follow the same rules, TribLive reported.

May 31, 2018

Richards was expected to meet with self-driving vehicle testers, including Uber in Pittsburgh, per the new action plan. However, the meeting was canceledKDKA-TV reported. PennDOT told The Incline that instead of the meeting, the department wanted to meet with testers individually, as well as continue conversations with lawmakers.

July 11, 2018

Uber eliminated the position of autonomous vehicle operator in favor of “mission specialists” who are trained in on-road and test-track operations and give more technical feedback to developers, Quartz reported. The company told roughly 100 vehicle operators, mostly in Pittsburgh, that they could apply for the new role as Uber prepared to return to on-road testing. Uber also confirmed to The Incline that testing on its Hazelwood test track had resumed.

July 24, 2018

Roughly four months after the fatal crash in Arizona, Uber started testing its self-driving vehicles in Pittsburgh again. The return followed a “top-to-bottom review” with a focus on safety. The company said it would test in a limited area with two mission specialists in each car. The vehicles would also stay in manual mode, not autonomous mode and not pick up ride-share users. PennDOT also released updated voluntary guidelines for self-driving vehicle testers that include having testers submit a safety plan, a “notice of testing” and other data to the department. Uber told TribLive that it has several of the new guidelines in place and expected that the company would want to comply.

July 30, 2018

Uber announced it was shuttering its self-driving truck unit to focus on self-driving cars, CNN reported. The trucks were tested in California and Arizona and on Pittsburgh’s test track.

Aug. 19, 2018

The New York Times reported Uber leadership was split on whether the company should sell its self-driving arm or consider it critical to the company’s future. Khosrowshahi later said the company has no plans to sell the self-driving unit for right now, TechCrunch reported.

Sept. 12, 2018

Nearly seven weeks after resuming testing, Uber confirmed that all of its autonomous vehicles continue to have two mission specialists and operate in a limited area of Pittsburgh. The cars are driven solely in manual mode on public streets, but are driven in autonomous mode on the test track, which is a controlled environment, per the company.

Want some more? Explore other Self-driving vehicles stories.

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Tagged

Uber, Bill Peduto