Pittsburgh’s Commuters Will Be the First to Use Uber’s Self-Driving Cars

Updated on April 2017/ Uber’s self-driving cars are currently facing legislative issues with getting registration for testing in San Francisco. Additionally, there is another event that threatened to harm the company’s long-term plans.

On 24th March 2017, a self-driving Uber Volvo SUV crashed into a car on the streets of Tempe, Arizona. However, further investigation revealed the whole incident was not caused by the Uber vehicle.

Thus, the company was able to resume its testing program in Arizona, as well as in Pittsburgh.

While the crash was clearly caused by human error, it is expected that more such events will stay in the way of Uber’s ambitious projects.

For the time being, Pittsburgh is still one of the main testing grounds for the autonomous vehicle pilot program.

The self-driving cars industry is starting to speed up. More than 30 automotive companies are investing in this technology, which is a reliable indicator of the current demand.

So far, Uber has proved to be a major player. With their Pittsburgh Project launch in August 2016, they are focused on reshaping public transportation.

But before jumping to conclusions, it’s essential that you get informed about this ambitious project. 

How It All Started

One year ago, Travis Kalanick (Uber’s CEO) reached out to William Peduto, Pittsburgh’s mayor. It was about a project proposal for an autonomous vehicle center in Pittsburgh.

Uber also wanted to set up a headquarters in Pittsburgh.

The result of that discussion was this: By the end of 2015, 200 job positions were already filled. Now, the count has reached 500. The agreement for actual road testing was signed six months ago.

Pittsburgh was the perfect testing ground for Uber’s self-driving taxis. The city is appealing due to its:

  • Challenging topography
  • Bridges
  • Diverse climate
  • Light traffic
  • Innovative background in robotics
  • Cyber security research prospects

As for concerns regarding potential accidents, Uber is assuming full responsibility. They are relying on technologies like remote sensing lasers to reduce hazards to the minimum.

How Does It Work?

Loyal Uber Customers are offered an invitation to test the new driverless taxis. The news is that this is the first time self-driving cars are available to regular civilians, not only to testers. 

Admittedly, for now, they still rely on drivers and engineers in the front seats to ensure safety. But all they have to do is manage the steering wheel; there are no pedals. What’s more, the rides are free until they are certified.

The experience is actually very close to an average ride. The driver takes over only when there are hiccups like driving over a bridge. On the back seat, there is a screen showing planned turns or route details.

The clip below will give you a better idea.

What Self-Driving Cars Offer People

It’s more than job opportunities short term-wise.

With the above mentioned academic background, Pittsburgh is set to become a major regional nod in the industry.

The city is also a pioneer in smart traffic signals. Carnegie Mellon University has been providing reliable tech on the issue so far.

It’s predicted that urban mobility will be impacted by this move to shared autonomous transportation.

As opposed to Google or Volvo, Uber is already collaborating with several automotive manufacturers. So this is where Pittsburgh has stepped in and provided strategic advantages for Uber to invest in.

But isn’t it challenging or prone to dispute? Of course, it is. As with any other innovation, it’s bound to be contested before being fully accepted as a natural step forward.

What Does Uber Have to Gain with This Move?

Uber are putting a lot on the line. They hope to push for the self-driving cars to be regulated. In fact, the first steps have been made. The U.S. Department of Transportation issued the Federal Automated Vehicle Policy recently.

It might take some time of testing until Uber’s CEO will convince authorities larger than local regulators. But he is convinced his efforts will result in traffic congestion shrinkage and less pollutionimplicitly.

People should be able to share rides and thus develop an alternative network to public transportation.

In this respect, Uber is proving an irresistible option for more and more people. Take, for instance, their smart option addressed to New Yorkers this summer.

During commute hours, you could get an UberPool pass. In July and August, people living in Manhattan would pay only $1.99 per commute, which is more than $1 cheaper than one commute with the NYC subway.

With this proven track record in innovation, it’s no wonder that Uber is one of the companies taking the most risks.

It remains to be seen if the risk pays off in the case of self-driving cars. Or is it too gray of an area to tackle? Not too gray for automakers like BMW or GM who place driverless cars at the core of their five-year strategy, it seems.

For the time being, Business Insider is telling us how testing went.

Do you think this project will allow people living in Pittsburgh to commute easier? Be sure to leave your answers in the comment section below.

Disclaimer: This article was originally published in 2016. Information was updated to keep you informed of the latest developments. 

Philipp Kandal