Back in December Uber refused to pay for a $150 permit to put semi-autonomous vehicles on the road in California. But that regulatory standoff ended this month when the company reversed course and said it would secure a permit after all. So, Jalopnik snagged a copy of the application. One notable part: it includes the program Uber gives to all drivers trained to operate the self-driving cars.
It’s an interesting peek inside what the ride-hailing giant does to ensure drivers can adequately handle a semi-autonomous vehicle with passengers in tow.
Uber didn’t respond to requests for comment about the program. The three-page training document is contained within the lengthier app Jalopnik obtained under a public records request to the California Department of Motor Vehicles. It indicates that drivers complete close to 70 hours of in-vehicle training on a closed course and public roadways.
The goal of the training program, it reads, “is to ensure that Vehicle Operators are able to smoothly transition between any operations with advanced driver assistance systems engaged and manual driving.” (That’s a relevant point after an accident last weekend in Arizona involving one of Uber’s self-driving Volvos.)
What does that entail?
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Particularly, according to the program, new operators are tasked with shadowing experienced operators on both closed courses and public road activities.
“Successful completion of the UATC Vehicle Operator training program is dependent on the passing of the course,” the program says. “If someone doesn’t pass the course, they do not continue in the program.”
From there, the prospective operators head to a five-day training program in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where they’re expected to complete approximately 33.5 hours of in-vehicle instruction on a closed course, and 7.5 hours of in-classroom instruction.
On the first day, operators are taken on a closed course for a self-driving ride along and test error scenarios on a closed course, along with a pair of instructional sessions to learn the behavior of the vehicles and the course. By day two, operators are in the vehicles, accruing practice time and having to deal with error scenarios on the closed course.
It’s not clear how much time the prospective operator spends behind the wheel, or if they’re also splitting time in the passenger’s seat. But the program says if a trainee falls below a “certain evaluated score” by the end of the week, “they do not proceed in the training program.”
For those that do move on, they handle another 35 hours of in-vehicle training on public roads. “During that time,” the document says, “they ride along with experienced operators, and also operate the vehicles with an experienced co-pilot.”
The program notes that the training schedule can be amended depending on the operator’s past experience.
The training schedule may be adjusted for Technical Operators with significant prior experience operating self-driving vehicles. Such trainees would complete all Uber Learning assessments and in-vehicle driver assessments, and gain experience operating the vehicles in both the right and left seat on a closed course prior to ride-alongs and operation on public roads.
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In response to Jalopnik’s request, the DMV included a version of Uber’s application that was redacted by the company and requested to be the copy intended for release to public—as well as a letter form the company’s lawyer, explaining why Uber believed certain aspects of the application constituted a trade secret, including the training manual. This was a little confusing at first.
“UATC [Uber Advanced Technologies Group] and its affiliates and business partners spent considerable time and resources developing the training program, and it is not generally known to the public,” Uber’s letter reads. “Competitors and others would obtain a valuable competitive advantage if they were able to learn the details outlined regarding UATC’s training program and potentially forgo the same research and development process.”
A lawyer for the DMV told Jalopnik that Uber’s attorney later said to disregard most of the points in the letter, hence why there’s a version redacted by Uber, along with a “confidential” version that offers more details.
Beyond that, the application discloses that Uber has only two Volvo XC90s certified to run autonomously on California roadways—at least, for now. In total, 48 drivers have been approved to operate the vehicles, of which about half had completed training at the time Uber initially launched the self-driving pilot program in San Francisco.
Uber paid about $1000 to receive titles for the two vehicles; both passed a smog check inspection on March 2, the documents show.
In a separate document, the company lays out why it submitted the application, saying the goal is for the vehicles to “drive autonomously in the widest range of driving environments.”
“The vehicles are not currently operating autonomously but rather rely on a combination of advanced driver assistance systems and constant human oversight,” it reads. Once the vehicles can drive entirely on their own, it continues, “the required hardware and operational features will remain in place for these vehicles.
“The vehicles will be operated for testing purposes,” the document goes on. “Testing of self-driving vehicles includes both a critical examination of driving functions, and how the vehicle is received by riders and the general public.”
If you want to check it out, the documents are included in their entirety below. The training manual starts on page 16 of Attachment B. We’ll update if we hear back from Uber.