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Uber ends autonomous vehicle research in Arizona

In this March 20, 2018, photo provided by the National Transportation Safety Board, investigators examine a driverless Uber SUV that fatally struck a woman in Tempe, Ariz. The fatality prompted Uber to suspend all road-testing of such autos in the Phoenix area, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto. (National Transportation Safety Board via AP)

In this March 20, 2018, photo provided by the National Transportation Safety Board, investigators examine a driverless Uber SUV that fatally struck a woman in Tempe, Ariz. The fatality prompted Uber to suspend all road-testing of such autos in the Phoenix area, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto. (National Transportation Safety Board via AP)

Uber will end its self-driving car operation in Arizona, the company announced Wednesday.

The closure comes after an autonomous Uber vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe in March, and stems from an internal safety assessment the company took on following the incident.

Uber’s announcement comes as a blow to Gov. Doug Ducey, who has been a major proponent of autonomous vehicle research — something he has welcomed in the state since 2015.

The company halted its autonomous vehicle research in Arizona following the deadly incident believed to be the first death caused by an autonomous vehicle. Ducey also suspended Uber from testing self-driving cars in Arizona.

Uber has no plans to stop its autonomous vehicle research altogether, and plans to restart its operations in Pittsburgh and San Francisco once investigations into the Tempe incident are complete. The company also has a smaller operation in Toronto.

“We’re committed to self-driving technology, and we look forward to returning to public roads in the near future,” an Uber spokesperson wrote in a prepared statement. “In the meantime, we remain focused on our top-to-bottom safety review.”

Earlier this month, Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said he plans to put self-driving cars back on the road “within the next few months,” according to news reports. At the time, Khosrowshahi did not specify where the autonomous vehicles would return to the roads, and he did not hint at closing Uber’s autonomous vehicle research in Arizona.

When asked about Uber’s decision, a spokesman for the governor’s office sidestepped the question.

“The governor’s focus has always been on what’s best for Arizonans and for public safety, not for any one company,” said Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato. “The suspension of Uber’s self-driving vehicle testing remains in place pending the outcome of federal investigations.”

Ducey welcomed Uber’s self-driving cars to Arizona in 2016 with little-to-no regulations placed on the emerging technology. The year before, he signed an executive order that permitted autonomous vehicle testing in Arizona.

Roughly 300 Uber employees were affected by the company’s decision to shutter its autonomous vehicle research in the state. But Uber, which will retain more than 500 workers here, plans to maintain its presence in Arizona, and anticipates hiring 70 new workers in the coming months to work on the company’s ridesharing service.

Uber is offering its terminated employees outplacement services to help them find new jobs.

Waymo, a subset of Google, is still testing autonomous vehicles in Arizona. The company was not required to halt its autonomous vehicle testing when Uber was back in March.

The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the deadly Uber incident in Tempe.

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