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The Morning Brew: A big step back for self-driving cars

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uber's self driving test car had sensors removed that might have made it safer

FILE - In this Dec. 13, 2016 file photo, Uber's autonomous car heads out for a test drive in San Francisco. Uber has decided to stop testing autonomous vehicles on California public roads by letting its state permit expire on Saturday, March 31, 2018, without renewing it. Immediately after the crash, Uber voluntarily suspended its autonomous vehicle testing in Arizona, as well as California, Pittsburgh and Toronto. The company said in a statement that it decided not to reapply for the California permit "with the understanding that our self-driving vehicles would not operate in the state in the immediate future." (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)
FILE - In this Dec. 13, 2016 file photo, Uber's autonomous car heads out for a test drive in San Francisco. Uber has decided to stop testing autonomous vehicles on California public roads by letting its state permit expire on Saturday, March 31, 2018, without renewing it. Immediately after the crash, Uber voluntarily suspended its autonomous vehicle testing in Arizona, as well as California, Pittsburgh and Toronto. The company said in a statement that it decided not to reapply for the California permit "with the understanding that our self-driving vehicles would not operate in the state in the immediate future." (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

Given it's likely to be the 4th of Never before Oklahoma City ever gets some form of light rail system linking the city with the suburbs, the idea of a self driving car that could drive you to work was either the next best thing, or even better than a train, depending on your perspective. 

But while the idea of a self-driving car sounds interesting, even appealing, it's probably not coming to a garage near you anytime soon, thanks in part to a blunder by Uber that set the movement back, and may have had a role in a woman's death. 

TEMPE, Ariz./PITTSBURGH (Reuters) - When Uber decided in 2016 to retire its fleet of self-driving Ford Fusion cars in favor of Volvo sport utility vehicles, it also chose to scale back on one notable piece of technology: the safety sensors used to detect objects in the road.

That decision resulted in a self-driving vehicle with more blind spots than its own earlier generation of autonomous cars, as well as those of its rivals, according to interviews with five former employees and four industry experts who spoke for the first time about Uber’s technology switch.

Driverless cars are supposed to avoid accidents with lidar – which uses laser light pulses to detect hazards on the road - and other sensors such as radar and cameras. The new Uber driverless vehicle is armed with only one roof-mounted lidar sensor compared with seven lidar units on the older Ford Fusion models Uber employed, according to diagrams prepared by Uber.


The safety of Uber’s self-driving car program is under intense scrutiny since Elaine Herzberg, 49, was killed last week after an Uber Volvo XC90 SUV operating in autonomous mode struck and killed her while she was jaywalking with her bicycle in Tempe, Arizona.

More here.

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Matt Patterson

Matt Patterson has been with The Oklahoman since 2006. Prior to joining the news staff in 2010, Patterson worked in The Oklahoman's sports department for five years. He previously worked at The Lawton Constitution and The Edmond Sun.... Read more ›

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