uber self driving cars toronto

Uber is testing self-driving cars in Toronto

It's been roughly nine months since one of Uber's futuristic, self-driving vehicles famously struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona—enough time, it would seem, to start testing them again some 2,235 miles away in Toronto. 

Don't freak out, though — the robo-cars will be manned by actual humans this time. At least in Canada. 

Uber Technologies Inc. has announced that its autonomous vehicles will be back on local roads beginning today, Thursday, December 20, with trained "mission specialists" behind the wheel plus a second person in the passenger seat.

These "manual driving tests," set to resume this morning in both Toronto and San Francisco, will help the company map out data while they move throughout each region in preparation for the real thing.

"Manual driving introduces new scenarios that our system will encounter and allows us to recreate them in a virtual world or on the test track to improve system performance," said Eric Meyhofer, head of Uber's Advanced Technologies Group (ATG) on Thursday.

"This is an important step towards self-driving," he notes. "We will only pursue a return to road for self-driving in these cities in coordination with federal, state, and local authorities."

Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, Uber will performing actual "on-road testing of self-driving operations" with the blessing of Pennsylvania's Department of Transportation.  

This will be the first time Uber is testing autonomous vehicles on any public roads in North America since March, when 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg died after being hit by one while walking her bike across the street in Tempe, Arizona.

"Over the past nine months, we've made safety core to everything we do," says Meyhofer. "We announced our first set of safeguards in July, completed comprehensive internal and external safety reviews, and released our Safety Report in November... This required a lot of introspection and took some time. Now we are ready to move forward."

Toronto may not see autonomous vehicles whipping around on their own anytime soon, but the city remains a key part of Uber's plan to develop safe, reliable, and trustworthy self-driving technologies.

The ridesharing giant announced in September that it would be spending at least $200 million in Toronto over the next five years through the expansion of its existing local ATG and the creation of a new engineering lab.

Uber ATG chief scientist Raquel Urtasun said this week that the company expects to have about 100 people working on self-driving car research in Toronto alone over the next year.

Let's hope they're all great behind the wheel of a driverless car.

Lead photo by

Uber Advanced Technologies Group

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