Following Uber's opening of a new Toronto-based testing center back in May, the company has now sent out two autonomous vehicles to map the city. The test vehicles were launched on Wednesday and will be collecting mapping data from around the city while under the control of drivers brought in from another Uber facility in Pittsburgh. That because the vehicles themselves – which are based on Volvo-manufactured SUV's – don't need to drive themselves in order to collect the data the company is hoping to obtain. Instead, sensors located on the roof of the vehicle will be used to scan the area, mapping out streets. Beyond that, and although not mentioned by Uber, data gathered throughout the test will also likely be used to improve the object-recognition capabilities of Uber's A.I. systems – since that is the primary focus of its Toronto based center.
Another reason the cars will be human-driven may be that Toronto law prevents the on-road testing of autonomous vehicles unless a human driver is available to take back control in the event of a problem. However, despite that limitation, an Uber Spokesperson Susie Heath has said that the company is "excited" about the tests, citing their usefulness in helping to further the efforts of Toronto's Uber-owned and operated Advanced Technologies Group lab. She also confirmed that the company will be conducting further "development testing" in the future and has already obtained the permit required to conduct those tests. In the meantime, the current tests are expected to continue at and around the University of Toronto until the end of the week.
The news is another welcome respite for Uber from the wide array of problems the company has been facing down over the last several months. Those have hit across several fronts and have likely caused substantial damage to Uber's public reputation and brand image. Bearing that in mind, this round of testing and other recent news about the company represent big steps forward for the company. To say the very least, the company appears to be going above and beyond to follow Toronto's regulatory standards while still managing to obtain the data it needs to continue its various projects.