Uber Just Launched Self-Driving Cars Today

I am one of those people who didn’t get their driver’s license until their 20s. I grew up in Hong Kong, a well-connected city with absolutely no need to drive a car. Uber saved my butt throughout college and beyond, and that might be why I’m a loyal Uber-er. (Is that a word?)

Well, Uber today launched self-driving cars in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I went to high school and college in Pittsburgh, and absolutely love the city. Pittsburgh provides a good market for Uber, mostly because buses are just about the only way to get around, and the main neighborhoods are all 10 – 15 minutes from each other. It’s also a perfect place to test out driverless cars, with benefits ranging from tricky topography, to engineering talent, to legal advantages.

Uber won’t be the first—a Singaporean company launched driverless taxis last month. However, with the reach of Uber, this is a landmark trial for them. The fleet consists of all Ford Fusion, decked out in sensors and cameras. Uber has been testing out these cars for the past 18 months, accumulating millions of miles of experience. In the next few months, they will also roll out 100 Volvo CX90s, which were designed with Volvo to be driverless, and will probably look way less…imposing than the current fleet.

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Image Credit: Uber

Currently, the driverless cars are only available in a small defined area, where the road conditions are familiar to the system. There will also be an emergency driver ready to take over at any moment, as well as a technician recording data in the front passenger seat. As a result, these self-driving Ubers will be limited to 2 passengers in the back.

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The backseats will have a tablet to show the vehicle speed, as well as explain functions of sensors on the roof of cars. It will also say whether the car is driving itself, or if it’s been taken over by the emergency driver. Emily Bartel, an Uber product manager, says:

We’re working towards developing a transparent experience that provides riders with enough information about the trip and the vehicle system to feel safe and confident.

A number of journalists have already tried out the service. You can see what the folks at the New York Times, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and Wired think. Or better yet, request one and try it out yourself!

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