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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Uber will resume autonomous vehicle testing on local streets, thanks to special clearance from PennDOT.
“Earlier this week we provided authorization to them because they met our guidelines,” PennDOT press secretary Erin Waters-Trasatt told KDKA money editor Jon Delano on Wednesday.
Uber is resuming street-testing after testing was suspended in March when a pedestrian was struck and killed in Arizona.
Testing was allowed a few months ago if a human driver kept their hands on the wheel at all times, but Uber can now test autonomously as long as one back-up driver is in the car, two drivers if the car exceeds 25 miles per hour.
Mayor Bill Peduto says it’s a balancing act between public safety and innovation.
“How can we assure public safety while still allowing a brand new industry to be born right here in Pittsburgh?” Peduto said.
Uber is not alone.
Four of the five testers approved by PennDOT are in Allegheny County, including Aurora Innovation, CMU, Uber and Argo AI.
Peduto says Uber will operate safely because testing will occur only in the Strip District, automated vehicles will not exceed 25 miles per hours, testing will be in daylight only, all vehicles will be clearly identified, and all vehicles will have two safety associates in the car.
Pennsylvania does not yet allow unmanned or fully autonomous vehicles to operate, so this testing is a bit of a gray area.
“PennDOT put forth this guidance because there isn’t federal or state legislation right now that really governs a lot of the development of these vehicles,” Waters-Trasatt said.
The mayor says Pittsburgh has a role developing these rules as the autonomous vehicle capital of America.
“A lot of different automobile manufacturers, technology companies, artificial intelligence companies, and robotics firms [are] all choosing to make Pittsburgh their home with the potential of 10,000 or more jobs,” Peduto said.
While the state of Pennsylvania has not updated its laws on autonomous vehicles, PennDOT has issued its own guidance.
Ironically, it’s not legally binding or required, but PennDOT expects all testers to comply.
At the same time, the city of Pittsburgh is drafting its own protocols, which in some cases are more restrictive than PennDOT’s.
The mayor is expected to issue an executive order on autonomous vehicle operation by the new year.