Reports that Uber had expanded its autonomous vehicle ambitions to Pittsburgh have been going around since last year, but there has been no official word on them — until now. The company has finally confirmed that it is testing self-driving cars in the city, says the Pittsburgh Tribune.
Why did Uber zero in on Pittsburgh?
Speculations about Uber taking its autonomous vehicle ambitions to Pittsburgh first surfaced a year ago following the opening of its Pittsburgh-based Advanced Technology Center, but this is the first time the company has officially admitted to testing such vehicles.
Uber not only confirmed the rumor but also gave a Tribune-Review reporter a ride in one of its Ford Fusion hybrids, which reportedly drove itself. Uber’s John Bares believes Pittsburgh’s narrow and hilly streets, snowy and rainy weather, and outdated infrastructure are the perfect testing grounds for Uber’s self-driving technology. So the point is that if Uber can manage here, it can easily do it elsewhere.
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“We have the world’s best test site right at our doorstep,” Bares said. “We view it as, it’s not quite Everest, but it’s a hard mountain … but the beautiful thing is we do have that mountain right out of our front door to climb,” the executive said.
Uber’s self-driving cars are capable of looking into any direction as far as 100 meters using multiple cameras, lasers and sensors. The company claims its cars have zero crashes so far. One must not expect Uber’s driverless technology to hit the roads any time soon though as Bares confirmed that the technology demoed on Wednesday is still in its early stages.
“While Uber is still in the early days of our self-driving efforts, every day of testing leads to improvements,” the company said in a blog post. “Right now we’re focused on getting the technology right and ensuring it’s safe for everyone on the road — pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers.”
Race to bring the technology to market
Uber is among the few tech and auto firms that are part of the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets. The group supports lobbying to fast-track legislation for autonomous vehicles. The other members of the coalition are Volvo, Ford, Lyft and Google. Legislation for self-driving cars could come as early as July, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Compared to Google, Uber is a relatively new entrant in the field of self-driving technology. The search giant has been testing its autonomous vehicles on the streets of California since 2009, but Uber will aim to be among the first to come up with a fleet of for-hire autonomous vehicles. General Motors is investing in Lyft to help beat Uber to the punch, and Google is continuing the development of its own driverless car with the idea of spinning off the business into an autonomous taxi service.
Each of the players will need thousands of road miles under their belt before they actually bring the technology to market, so we can expect more driverless prototypes on the roads in the months ahead.