A tipster emailed us a photo of a bunch of parked Uber cars in Pittsburgh last week, raising some degree of alarm that perhaps Uber had scuttled its program for autonomous vehicle operation. This was an exciting possibility for a short while, at least until Uber said it definitely was not shutting down the program.
As a reminder: The whole proposition of Uber depends on it solving self-driving. The company, as it is constructed, does not have a rational future with humans driving its taxis, because humans cost a lot of money and Uber’s long-term success depends on it not paying for those humans. That is also, in large part, what props up its stock price and its $61 billion market valuation (as of this writing).
And so any suggestion that it is giving up on self-driving development would be Big News, as it would constitute Uber basically giving up on its business altogether. That suggestion also wouldn’t be out of left field — the Information website had a blog just a few weeks ago all about how difficult Uber was finding it to crack the AV puzzle, and that’s in addition to the fallout from the fatal incident in Arizona. No one would blame it for throwing in the towel on Level 5 autonomous operation, because Level 5 autonomous might just be impossible.
Which brings us to the following photo, sent to Jalpnik by the tipster on Friday, of a bunch of Uber Volvos parked in Pittsburgh, where Uber tests autonomous cars.
This could be basically anything, as I assume that all of Uber’s cars aren’t constantly out testing, and some of the fleet may be parked at any given time. At any rate, I emailed Uber to see what was up. A spokesperson gave me the following:
Important to start by saying that the self-driving program is absolutely not shutting down, and these photographs should not be interpreted as such. What you’re seeing here is an older generation of our vehicles that we have “retired” for operations. We have since transitioned our testing to our newest vehicle (see image attached), which we are testing on our test track and in a limited capacity on public roads.
The image that spokesperson attached:
Uber is still at this, in other words. Whether you think they will ultimately get there, however, is still very much up for debate.