Testing ground for self driven cars

Silicon Valley may be the birthplace of self-driving technology, but Arizona has become its testing ground. That’s where Uber and Waymo, Google parent company Alphabet’s self-driving subsidiary, have both set up shop to test their self-driving cars.

The road hasn’t always been smooth—in addition to being dragged into a major intellectual-property lawsuit, both Waymo and Uber have experienced first-hand the hard realities of autonomous vehicles.

In March, one of Uber’s self-driving cars struck and killed a 49-year-old pedestrian. The car’s automatic emergency brakes were disabled, and authorities said the safety driver monitoring the car was watching a show on her phone at the time of the accident.

Waymo has not dealt with fatalities, but it recently put “safety drivers” back in the driver’s seats of its autonomous vehicles, which still struggle with some traffic situations.

Nevertheless, Waymo appears to be pushing forward. A 400-person group called Early Riders has been beta testing the company’s autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans in the Phoenix suburbs, and this week, Waymo began giving public rides through a 24-hour service called Waymo One.

The company expects to expand the program to additional riders and cities in the future. Its competitor, meanwhile, has fallen behind. In May, Uber shut down its testing program in Arizona, and got rid of many of its testers.

According to The New York Times, the company is now negotiating with Pennsylvania’s department of transportation to re-start public testing in that state, albeit with limitations: its cars would reportedly run on a “mile loop” between two of Uber’s Pittsburgh offices, won’t go faster than 25m/p/h, and won’t operate in wet weather or at night.

Waymo has been perfecting its self-driving technology for the better part of a decade—nearly as long as Uber has existed as a company. It is no surprise, then, that Uber is encountering speed bumps in its quest to get self-driving cars right.

Per the Times, the cars passed only 82 per cent of track tests, even after Uber restricted the speed at which they drove.

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