Uber has laid off its self-driving car safety operators in Pittsburgh as the company reevaluates its autonomous vehicle strategy following a fatal crash in Tempe, Arizona, in March, Quartz reports and the company confirms.
The company convened a meeting on July 11th to inform around 100 safety drivers — employees who ride in Uber’s self-driving vehicles and monitor their operation — that their positions would be terminated, according to the report. The drivers had been kept on the payroll even though Uber suspended its self-driving tests in North America following the deadly March 19th crash in Arizona.
Uber plans to create 55 new positions called “mission specialists” for both on-road and track testing of its autonomous vehicles. These jobs will require more technical expertise than the eliminated positions, a spokesperson said. Uber is still testing its self-driving vehicles at a large proving ground outside Pittsburgh, and the new mission specialists will need to be trained in those protocols. Laid off safety drivers are invited to apply for these new roles and will be given priority consideration. They are also welcome to apply to non-AV affiliated jobs at the company, the spokesperson added.
“Our team remains committed to building safe self-driving technology, and we look forward to returning to public roads in the coming months,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
So while it doesn’t appear that Uber is abandoning its self-driving ambitions, it does seem to be scaling back. Following the crash that killed a 49-year-old pedestrian, Arizona’s governor banned the company from testing on public roads. Later, Uber laid off around 300 of its safety operators in Arizona and shuttered its autonomous driving operation in the state.
A preliminary report from the National Traffic Safety Board said the vehicle showed no signs of slowing down as it slammed into Elaine Herzberg, killing her. Tempe police reported that the safety driver had been watching The Voice on her phone at the time of the crash.
The company had previously been testing in San Francisco and Toronto. But Pittsburgh was the linchpin, as both the city where Uber’s Advanced Technology Group is headquartered and where it first began testing in September 2016. The company has had a salty relationship with the city’s mayor, Bill Peduto, but is clearly interested in continuing to test in the former steel town.
Last May, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said that the company would resume its self-driving tests in “a few months.” Later, The Information reported that Uber was already eyeing August as a potential start date.