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, Argo AI, and Pony.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.
“The safety and well-being of our employees and our community is our top priority. Out of an abundance of caution, we have asked Cruisers across all our locations who can conduct their work remotely to do so until further notice.” –@ArdenMHoffman1, Chief People Officer
— Cruise (@Cruise) March 9, 2020
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.
Pony.ai also decided to suspend its public PonyPilot service for three weeks starting March 16, as well as its autonomous vehicle commuter program for the Fremont government. The company recently concluded a multi-month pilot robo-taxi service in Irvine, California — dubbed BotRide — in partnership with Hyundai (which provided ONA Electric SUVs) and Via (which supplied the passenger booking and assignment logistics).
1/5 In the interest of the health and safety of our riders and the entire Waymo community, we’re pausing our Waymo One service with trained drivers in Metro Phoenix for now as we continue to watch COVID-19 developments.
— Waymo (@Waymo) March 17, 2020
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.
In the U.S. at the time of writing, the total number of coronavirus cases and deaths was 4,226 and 75, respectively, as reported by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.