Uber Takes Self-Driving Car for a Spin
Technology| | By Robin Milling
The self-driving car is gearing up for an inevitable addition to our crowded highways. The global race has already been won by the self-driving taxi from NuTonomy, to be fully implemented in Singapore by 2018. Now Uber wants to be first in the United States to make driverless cars available to the general public, giving their passengers a sneak preview of what the autonomous car is all about.
Riders in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania took the driverless car for a spin on Wednesday as a brave group of volunteer Uber riders were chauffeured by a fleet of self-driving Ford Fusions.
The cars are fully loaded with navigational tools. However, in the event of an unforeseen mishap, an Uber engineer will be behind the wheel to seize control.
Raffi Krikorian, director of Uber Advanced Technologies Center (ATC) in Pittsburgh told the Associated Press (AP), “That pilot really pushes the ball forward for us. We think it can help with congestion. We think it can make transportation cheaper and more accessible for the vast majority of people.”
Certainly when you remove the cost of a driver you can save money, but some Uber customers weren’t buying that logic.
“It scares me not to have a driver there with an Uber,” said a health executive who happened to be in the neighborhood when the test drive was taking place.
Pittsburgh is an ideal guinea pig to research self-driving cars with its notoriously bad driving conditions such as snowstorms, rolling hills, aging roads and bridges. An AP reporter experienced riding smoothly through downtown Pittsburgh over bridges, dutifully waiting for oncoming traffic. Parking, however, was left in the hands of the human driver.
Driverless technology is a tricky one. Some tech companies are opting for no steering wheel or pedals before allowing passengers to ride. While others are still relying on the driver to take over in certain circumstances. NuTonomy, designed by tech heads out of MIT, claims that its six taxis with backup drivers haven’t had any accidents since the service launched on August 24.
Uber engineers must undergo a week or more of safety boot-camp to drive the cars, with executives keeping a watchful eye to see how the cars handle these challenges before fully allowing driverless vehicles to hit the roads. Until then we’ll just have to deal with the unpredictability of Uber’s human drivers.