Autonomous Ubers are back on road - but with limits

Earlier this year, Uber took its self-driving cars off the road after an accident resulted in the death of a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. At the time, Uber promised significant changes to the autonomous hardware and software in those cars and announced plans to put them back on the road at some point during the summer. Today, Uber revealed that its self-driving cars will soon return to Pittsburgh, but when they hit the road again, they'll be under close watch by the company's mission specialists.

In fact, Uber says in a new blog post that there won't actually be any autonomous driving – at least not at first. Instead, Uber is restarting its fleet of self-driving cars in manual mode, with mission specialists operating the cars at all times. They'll be joined a second specialist in the passenger seat, who will be documenting "notable events." Uber makes it clear that it's not looking to dive head first back into the realm of autonomous driving, and would rather take things very slowly.

The company also outlined a number of improvements it's making to its self-driving fleet. Uber says that all autonomous vehicles will be outfitted with driver monitoring systems that track the driver's behavior in real-time. If those systems detect that the driver is inattentive, an audio signal will play in the car and a remote monitor will also be alerted to the situation.

Uber also plans to enable the collision avoidance systems even while these vehicles are operating in manual mode, which gives an extra layer of defense from collisions. It has also attempted to minimize the distractions from the in-vehicle tablets by tweaking the interface in accordance with guidelines from NHTSA.

Finally, all of the specialists who will be controlling these cars have undergone additional training that covers things like situational awareness, fatigue management, and defensive and distracted driving. We'll see how this manual driving period goes, but the plan is to resume self-driving tests in the next few months. For now, though, Uber seems fine with taking a very cautious approach to resuming testing, and we doubt many people will mind that.