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Uber lays off 100 autonomous car operators in Pittsburgh

by Drew Johnson

The announcement is another blow to Uber\'s goal of developing a self-driving car.

Uber's ambitious autonomous vehicle plans took another hit this week as the ride hailing firm terminated its staff of self-driving car operators in Pittsburgh. The move was influenced by a fatal crash involving an Uber test car and a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona earlier this year.

Pittsburgh has served as one of Uber's main testing hubs for the last few years, but the company's operations there have been on hold since the fatal March accident. Uber was hopeful that it would be able to restart its self-driving program in Pittsburgh this summer, but the company's latest announcement casts doubt on that goal.

Uber's self-driving car operators were tasked with the job of sitting behind the wheel of autonomous test vehicles in case human intervention was required, but the company confirmed on Wednesday that it has laid off 100 operators and eliminated the position entirely. Uber says it plans to replace those displaced employees with 55 so-called "mission specialists" that are trained in both on-road and test-track driving. The self-driving car operators weren't required to have that level of technical training.

"Our team remains committed to building safe self-driving technology, and we look forward to returning to public roads in the coming months," an Uber spokesperson said in an emailed statement to Quartz.

Uber says it will allow its former self-driving car operators to apply to the new position of mission specialist. There is no timeframe for when Uber's self-driving test cars might be back on public roads.