On September 14, Uber announced they had been testing driverless cars in Pittsburgh and had officially released the first Self-Driving Ubers to improve technology and progress their company.
A representative in their newsroom stated, “A year and a half ago, Uber set up an Advanced Technologies Center (ATC) in Pittsburgh. Its mission: to make self-driving Ubers a reality… We’re inviting our most loyal Pittsburgh customers to experience the future first. If a Self-Driving Uber is available, we’ll send it along with a safety driver up front to make sure the ride goes smoothly. Otherwise it’s uberX as usual.”
Uber has hired several researchers from Carnegie Mellon University’s robotics center to design the driverless cars and the system they run on. However, the option to ride in a self-driving Uber is currently only available to specific customers. The company still has hours of programming and researching before the cars will be released in larger numbers and for the majority of clients.
The cars may be self-driving but to ensure safety to customers, an engineer sits in the front seat with the ability to override the pilot in case of poor road conditions or other issues. As soon as the driver breaks, accelerates or presses a specific button, the car returns to being manually operated. They are constantly being perfected and changed as problems arise, so the technology being used can only be improved and built upon.
Uber is a large supporter of new and improved technology. Their corporate leaders feel that driverless cars will improve society in several large aspects. A decrease in traffic accidents would occur, which kills approximately 1.3 million people every year. These cars could also help solve congestion problems in cities due to drivers not having the option to slow down for unnecessary reasons.
Many people believe the new Self-Driving Ubers will contribute to a decrease in jobs. However, with the cars running 24 hours a day, they will need much more maintenance than the average consumer car. Also, with the amount of research Uber has invested to manufacture these cars and assemble them, they have employed more people than they ever could have with normal drivers.
Raffi Krikorian, director of Uber’s Advanced Technologies Campus, discussed what having the cars on the roads was doing for them. Krikorian told a reporter that the purpose of releasing the driverless cars was to continue research in a real life environment to see how cars react and how to improve its technology.
An Uber executive stated at a press conference why the city was chosen for this project, “Pittsburgh is home to world class research and engineering talents, it has an organic road network, it has a real traffic condition.” He went on to say that because of Pittsburgh’s tricky weather and irregular grid it was a great place to test the driverless cars.