Uber's autonomous vehicle test in Pittsburgh is just the beginning of the company's big ambitions.
Uber began testing an autonomous Ford Fusion Hybrid on the undulating roads in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, just a few months ago, and the leading ridesharing service in the United States now began letting customers take journeys in these self-driving vehicles. There’s still a driver behind the wheel case something goes wrong, but the video above shows that these sensor-laden sedans can largely handle the job by themselves.
These vehicles remain part of a pilot program, and Uber users can’t yet specifically request a ride in the autonomous Ford. Instead, the company says it is reserving them “our most loyal Pittsburgh customers.” If one is nearby when a person hails a car, the client gets to arrive at the destination in a self-driving sedan.
Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh began working on a self-driving ridesharing vehicle 18 months ago. It then equipped these Fusions with an array of laser scanners, cameras, and radar for creating intricate maps of the city. The system still requires occasional intervention from a human, like during bad weather.
The ridesharing company’s utopian goal is that its driverless vehicles could eventually be on the road 24 hours a day. Uber thinks that having such a convenient service could make it an alternative to traditional car ownership, which would ease traffic congestion. The firm still has a lot of development to do before achieving that lofty ambition, though.
While Uber’s first autonomous vehicle is a Ford, expect the next ones to be a little more luxurious. The business recently partnered with Volvo in a $300-million deal for self-driving models based on the XC90, S90, and V90. The Swedish automaker will sell them to customers without Uber’s proprietary tech, too.
Uber needs to work fast because it has well-funded competitors in the self-driving ridesharing market. For example, NuTonomy already has a service operating in Singapore with a fleet of Mitsubishi i-MiEV and Renault Zoe vehicles. Ford also recently pledged it would enter the market by 2021 with model without a steering wheel or pedals.
Pittsburgh, your Self-Driving Uber is arriving now
A year and a half ago, Uber set up an Advanced Technologies Center (ATC) in Pittsburgh. Its mission: to make self-driving Ubers a reality. Today, we’re excited to announce that the world’s first Self-Driving Ubers are now on the road in the Steel City.
We’re inviting our most loyal Pittsburgh customers to experience the future first. If a Self-Driving Uber is available, we’ll send it along with a safety driver up front to make sure the ride goes smoothly. Otherwise it’s uberX as usual.
This pilot is a big step forward. Real-world testing is critical to the success of this technology. And creating a viable alternative to individual car ownership is important to the future of cities.
Of course, we can’t predict exactly what the future will hold. But we know that self-driving Ubers have enormous potential to further our mission and improve society: reducing the number of traffic accidents, which today kill 1.3 million people a year; freeing up the 20 percent of space in cities currently used to park the world’s billion plus cars; and cutting congestion, which wastes trillions of hours every year.
We know that many drivers will have questions about this technology. It’s still very early: Self-Driving Ubers have a safety driver in the front seat because they require human intervention in many conditions, including bad weather. Even when these technology issues get fixed, we believe ridesharing will be a mix—with services provided by both drivers and Self-Driving Ubers. This is because of the limits of self-driving software and the skyrocketing demand for better transportation which people-powered transport is uniquely able to solve.
Technology also creates new work opportunities while disrupting existing ones. Many predicted that the ATM would spell doom for bank tellers. In fact, ATMs cut the cost of running a local bank so more branches opened, employing more people. Self-Driving Ubers will be on the road 24 hours a day, which means they will need a lot more human maintenance than cars today.
We couldn’t be more excited about what’s next. But to make it happen, we need to lead by fusing our great ridesharing network with great self-driving software and hardware. Our ATC efforts combined with our recent Otto acquisition mean we have one of the strongest self-driving engineering groups in the world, as well as the experience that comes from running a ridesharing and delivery network in hundreds of cities. And our existing partnerships with drivers, as well as new ones with manufacturers like Volvo, will ensure a world-class customer experience for generations to come.
Founder, Otto and VP, Self-Driving Technology, Uber
CEO and Co-Founder, Uber