Coronavirus fears halt autonomous vehicle testing for Uber, Cruise, Aurora, Argo AI, Waymo, and others
Following Waymo’s announcement that it would pause operations of its commercial ride-hailing service in Pheonix, Arizona and its autonomous car testing on public California roads in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of driverless car companies followed suit. Uber has suspended all vehicle testing, as well as GM’s Cruise, Aurora, and Argo AI.
“Our goal is to help flatten the curve of community spread,” said Uber Advanced Technologies Group (ATG) CEO Eric Meyhofer in a statement. “Following recent guidance from local and state officials in areas where we operate our self-driving vehicles, we are pausing all test track and on-road testing until further notice.”
Uber paused operations on March 16, and the company told VentureBeat that the ATG team continues to execute on projects from home with offline virtual simulation tooling like VerCD. Uber had resumed autonomous vehicle testing in San Francisco on March 10 over a month after it received a California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) license, and it has been operated fleets manually in Dallas, Toronto, and Washington, D.C. for several months.
Cruise’s chief people officer Arden Hoffman said that Cruise has suspended operations and closed all San Francisco facilities for the time being, with a plan to reopen them in three weeks. One of the programs affected is a ride-hailing program in San Francisco called Cruise Anywhere that allows Cruise employees to use an app to get around mapped areas, as well as Cruise’s partnership with DoorDash to deliver food and groceries in the Bay Area for select customers.
Cruise confirmed that it plans to pay autonomous vehicle operators during the period.
Aurora VP of operations Greg Zanghi told VentureBeat that Aurora’s entire team — including its test drivers — are working from home and will continue to get paid. In lieu of on-the-road tests, the company will use digital systems like its Virtual Test Suite to continue to fuel development and testing efforts.
As for Argo AI, a spokesperson told VentureBeat that while it hasn’t experienced a “significant impact” due to the coronavirus, it has taken steps to allow work from home, including pausing car testing operations at all of its locations. Argo was conducting testing in Pittsburgh, where it’s based, as well as in Austin, Miami, Palo Alto, Washington, D.C. and Dearborn, Michigan.
“Argo AI places the highest priority on ensuring our employees and contractors have a safe, secure and healthy work environment,” said the spokesperson.
Concern over the spread of the novel coronavirus was is the chief motivator behind the industry-wide pauses in operations. Waymo said it made its decision “in the interest of the health and safety of our riders and the entire Waymo community,” and after at least one incident of a human safety driver in a Waymo One vehicle refusing to pick up a passenger because a local case of COVID-19 had been reported.
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