Taking a Ride in a Self-Driving Uber: Here’s What You Need to Know

Uber has got its eyes on the prize. The company is putting a lot of effort and resources into developing their self-driving technology and providing the first autonomous taxi service in the US.

The transportation and ride-sharing giant started its quest to make self-driving Ubers a reality back in 2015.

In 2016, the world’s first self-driving taxis were already on the road in Pittsburgh, US, and select Uber users got to take a ride.

Just recently, Uber announced they are planning to massively expand their Pittsburg operations and create more space to test their cars.

All this progress indicates the company’s autonomous driving technology is developing fast. But what exactly is the experience they are touting?

What is it like sitting in the back of a taxi that doesn’t need a human driver to drop you off at your destination?

You’ll get some answers as long as you keep on reading.

Self-Driving Uber: The Essentials

The first thing you notice is the fact there’s some type of in-wheel device on top of the car. That’s actually a LIDAR sensor which is mapping the road and retrieving information needed to guide the car.

This is the sensor that stands out the most when you look at the car, but there are dozens more of these sensors.  Also, the vehicles come equipped with:

  • 20 cameras
  • 7 lasers
  • radars

Inside the car, passengers will be greeted by a tablet. All they’ll have to do is press a green button on its screen to start the ride.

On the same screen, riders will be able to see a map showing where the Uber is going and how the car “sees” the world.

From then on, all there’s left to do is sit back and comfortably enjoy the ride.

Take a look at the video below released by Uber to get a better sense of what it would be like taking a ride in one of their self-driving cars.

The Experience

For now, passengers who got to take a ride inside a self-driving Uber did so in the presence of a trained engineer there to take over the wheel in case something doesn’t go as planned.

So it’s hard to tell now what it would be like for someone to sit in the backseat of a car with no driver behind the wheel.

The car is engineered to handle pretty much anything from bridges and narrow streets to jaywalking.

However, the question is whether human passengers can handle the fact that a machine is in full control?

While inside a self-driving Uber, it can feel like the car has a mind of its own.

Being okay with that means trusting a machine with your own life. But Uber seems to think human passengers will get used to it over time as they come to understand the enormous potential involved.

Possible Concerns

There are still a lot of things that need to be perfected before passengers can feel 100% safe taking a ride in a self-driving Uber.

  • Real-world testing:. Uber is having a hard time testing their cars in real-life traffic conditions. Emil Michael said that one of the biggest challenges they are facing is finding enough test markets for their self-driving Ubers. “We need real road miles to make the thing work”, Michael said.
  • Accountability issues: Just recently, Uber faced major backlash after one of its vehicles was involved in a rollover crash in Tempe, Arizona. Who will be held accountable in case the self-driving Uber gets in an accident or ends up injuring or killing a person on the road, for instance?
  • Bad weather: Will Uber be ready for driving conditions that typically require human intervention, like cleaning up the snow or taking cover during a major storm?

These are only a few concerns that need to be addressed before the self-driving Uber can reach full fruition on public roads.

Are You Looking forward To Uber’s Autonomous Taxi Service?

Uber’s stated mission behind their self-driving service is to ultimately  improve society by helping:

  • lower the number of traffic accidents.
  • reduce traffic congestion.
  • free up parking space.

We’ll just have to wait and see if they really manage to live up to their words or not.

Philipp Kandal