Vjeran Pavic

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said Wednesday that the company would resume testing its self-driving cars “in a few months.” The ride-hailing company grounded its fleet of autonomous vehicles in the wake of a fatal crash in Tempe, Arizona, and has since said it was waiting for the release of a preliminary report from federal traffic investigators before restarting the program.

That moment appears to be fast approaching, according to Khosrowshahi. Speaking from the stage of Uber’s second annual Elevate conference in Los Angeles, Khosrowshahi said he expected the company’s autonomous vehicles to be back on the road soon after the release of the National Traffic Safety Board’s report, as well as a “top-to-bottom” internal safety review Uber was conducting at its Advance Technologies Group in Pittsburgh.

The crash occurred at night in early March in Tempe, Arizona. The Uber vehicle was headed northbound when a woman, identified as 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, was struck while pushing a bicycle across the street. Herzberg was taken to the hospital, where she later died from her injuries. Recent reports suggest Uber’s autonomous driving software may have been tuned in such a way that the vehicle “decided” it didn’t need to take evasive action, and possibly flagged the detection as a “false positive.”

In the wake of the crash, signs have emerged that Uber’s self-driving program was potentially fraught with risk. For one thing, Uber had reduced the number of “safety drivers” in its test cars from two to one, according to a New York Times report. This explained why the driver who was in the car that killed Herzberg was alone.

Then in late March, Reuters discovered that Uber had reduced the number of LIDAR sensors on its test cars. (LIDAR is considered by most to be critical hardware for autonomous driving.) All this was happening in an environment with little oversight from the government in Arizona. Emails obtained by The Guardian in the weeks after the crash detailed a cozy relationship between Uber and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey that may have allowed the company’s test cars to hit the road even earlier than previously thought. Khosrowshahi had also considered ending the self-driving program when he came on board last August.

But at the Elevate event, Khosrowshahi sounded bullish on Uber’s future in autonomous vehicles. Uber has been working “hand in hand” with the NTSB, and would not be “tweeting ahead of their findings,” Khosrowshahi said, in an apparent dig at Elon Musk, who has been feuding with the agency.

“Are we doing the right thing, are we pushing too hard, and is it coming at the cost of safety,” Khosrowshahi said on his thoughts on innovation, “and 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.”

When it resumes, Uber’s self-driving car program may look quite different than it did before the fatal crash. Arizona has moved to restrict the company from testing its vehicles in the state. And Uber has declined to renew its testing license in California. That would leave Pittsburgh, where Uber has been testing its vehicles for several years, as the sole outpost for Uber’s program.

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