If you haven’t already heard, autonomous cars are the way of the future. No one wants to drive anymore, that’s why ride-hailing and car-sharing services have become so popular. But, as it turns out, ride-hailing services don’t really want people to drive either, anymore. So Uber has been conducting studies on self-driving cars and is now ready to begin testing those cars in real time in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. What a time to be alive.
Uber hired a team of researchers from Pittsburgh’s own Carnegie Mellon University. Carnegie Mellon has been one of the leading universities in the US, in terms of autonomous vehicle research. So it makes sense to go there for help. Plus, the Mayor of Pittsburgh is fully supportive, which helps.
To show off what Uber’s autonomous cars can do, as well as get some live testing, it brought some journalists along to take a ride in a self-driving car. The Ford Fusions Uber used have advanced Lidar equipped to their roofs and are capable of fully autonomous driving. When you hail your car from Uber, you will have the option to choose a self-driving car. From there, one of these Lidar-equipped Fusions will pick you up. Once in the back, there’s a large tablet that allows you to tell the car that you’re ready to depart.
Once away, the tablet turns into a first-person view of what the car is seeing. So a digital map of the road appears on the tablet, with the road highlighted in red and everything else in blue. So it’s showing the passengers exactly what it’s seeing, which is comforting.
Accompanying the journalists were engineers from Uber who were there to prevent any mistakes and take notes. Both sat in the front, with one behind the wheel just hovering over the actual steering wheel, and the other in the passenger seat holding a laptop. The engineer behind the wheel would only take over to control situations the car wouldn’t be able to handle, such as moving out of a blocked lane.
Overall, it’s been said that these self-driving Uber Ford Fusions did really well and were able to handle almost any and all situations thrown at them. In fact, one journalist from Tech Crunch claimed that it felt so normal and human that it got boring. It just goes to show how far along autonomous technology is coming.
Uber is planning on rolling out live testing with real customers quite soon in Pittsburgh. While Google and Tesla test their autonomous tech in Silicon Valley, where rain or any other form of bad weather is a rarity, Pittsburgh gets all sorts of bad weather. Plus, its road system is very old, so the signs and streets are confusing and full of dangerous potholes. Pittsburgh is going to be a real test for Uber’s self-driving cars, but they can pass, they’ll be ready for anything.
With this testing from Uber, it’s likely other companies start doing the same. It makes a lot of sense for taxis to be where the industry starts with self-driving technologies. Routes are clearly pre-determined and they’ll typically be driving in urban cities, where streets are easier to navigate. Considering the popularity of services like Uber, and America’s current obsession with autonomous cars, it’s likely we will see fully-functioning autonomous taxis within the next five years.