Uber and Self-Driving Cars

In 2015, ride-share company Uber partnered with Carnegie Mellon University to create the Advanced Technology Center. The goal was to make self-driving cars a consumer reality. The National Robotics Engineering Center was also involved with the project, and took on the task of researching vehicle safety.

In August, cars took to the streets of Pittsburgh. Currently, there are 14 autonomous Ford Fusion’s in Uber’s fleet. When a user requests a car, they’ll get one of the test Fusions, if available. A driver is also present for safety control.

Journalists got early access to the fleet, and reporters from NPR, TechCrunch, and Wired have all shared their experiences with Uber’s self-proclaimed cars of the future. The reporters’ stories are generally consistent with one another. The driver has the option to switch off the autonomous mode and go manual, as was the case for several obstacles in the road.

Uber refers to Pittsburgh as “the double black diamond of driving”: the city experiences four distinct seasons that create a wide variety of driving conditions. Its roads are also full of potholes, and the city arrangement includes a unique grid and several bridges. They’ve contrasted this approach with Google’s self driving cars, which operate exclusively in the Silicon Valley sun. Uber believes that all of these variables make Pittsburgh one of the more challenging cities for driving. They figure if they can perfect autonomous ridesharing there, then expansion to other cities will be easier.

In the long term, Uber envisions a world where even the safety driver isn’t necessary. Eliminating the human aspect of driving, they believe, will make roads safer.