Uber testing driverless cars in Pittsburgh
Mon 20 Jun 2016
You’ve got to feel sorry for taxi drivers these days. In the last seven years, an industry that had remained largely unchanged since the decision to make all cabs yellow has been turned on its head, largely because of ride-sharing service Uber and others like it.
Now, the disruptive young company is preparing its next move, and it’s not just yellow cab drivers who will be fretting for their job security. The Uber Advanced Technology Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania has loosed its first driverless test vehicles on public roads, with several more cars slated to join soon.
Uber’s choice of vehicle is more pragmatic than science-fiction. It’s ch
osen a metallic grey Ford Fusion to carry the torch for autonomous vehicles. You won’t have much trouble spotting it, either — the car sports a sizeable roof-mounted equipment pod complete with cameras, radar and laser scanners, and has the words “Uber Advanced Technologies Center” emblazoned along its sides.
While it’s not clear whether the car is only being used for testing at the moment, or is already giving rides to Uber customers, untrusting passengers will be comforted to know that the test car does, for the time being, contain a human “backup” in case anything should go wrong.
Friends don’t let friends drive, at all
It’s not difficult to understand Uber’s interest in driverless technology. Eliminating drivers would save the company an unprecedented amount of money in driver wages, and has the potential to greatly reduce the risk of accidents. Assuming this holds true, it would eliminate a second major pain point that Uber has struggled to overcome: Insuring its drivers.
Naturally, Uber is not the only business interested in developing driverless technology. In the last two years, several companies, including Google, Apple, BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz have all demonstrated promising attempts at the technology. Tesla says the technology is already in place on 2015 and later models, and is capable of directing the car 90% of the time.
BMW is touting how quickly it can make automated cars go, showing off an automated version of its 2-series that can perform high-speed “drifts” with no assistance from a human and lap a race course as quickly as a professional racing driver can. Audi claim its 2017 A8 model will be one of the first mass-produced cars with an “autopilot” option.
Will roads of the future be dominated by driverless cars? More and more projections indicate that they will. Famous Tesla founder Elon Musk cites the high number of automobile accidents that take place with human drivers, and the fact that eliminating human error would greatly increase safety for everybody on the road.
The question isn’t one of “if,” but “when.” Such a dynamic change to how we commute will bring down global emissions, unburden people from the costs of car ownership, increase productivity and likely create entirely new industries we haven’t even thought of yet. You might even be able to go through life without ever visiting the DMV!
Until then, however, you still have to call Uber.