Uber customers may be comfortable with the idea of being shuttled around by a human driver, but what if in the future those human drivers were replaced with computers? Fully autonomous/self-driving production vehicles are definitely going to be hitting our roads within the next decade, so it makes sense that Uber would be looking to embrace the technology.
Uber’s autonomous vehicles are currently being developed at the company’s Advanced Technologies Center (ATC) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. That’s where you’ll find the company’s modified Ford Fusion Hybrid roaming the streets. In its current prototype form, the Ford Fusion Hybrid is gathering mapping data and navigating city traffic in self-driving mode. When operating autonomously, a human driver remains in the driver’s seat to take over in the case of an emergency (as is the case with Google’s self-driving fleet).
According to Uber, self-driving cars are needed to save us from ourselves. “Self-driving cars have the potential to save millions of lives and improve quality of life for people around the world,” writes the company in a blog posting. “1.3 million people die every year in car accidents — 94% of those accidents involve human error.
“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.”
To show off the capabilities of its autonomous vehicle, Uber invited a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter along for a ride. Needless to say, the Fusion Hybrid managed to impress with its driving skills:
The car will accelerate, brake, steer and perform other basic functions on its own. It switches out of self-driving mode with a loud beep if its sensors detect a car swerving into its lane or it encounters something it does not recognize or know how to negotiate. The driver can take control of the car at any time…
The car's sensors have detected parked cars sticking out into traffic, people jaywalking, bicyclists and a goose crossing River Avenue. The car also can detect potholes.
Uber still has a ways to go before it can match the sheer number of miles and data that Google has amassed via its self-driving car fleet (roughly 1.6 million miles at this point) over the past few years, but company is hoping that its late start won’t prevent it from making its share of contributions in the field.