We have discussed Uber’s desire to create an army of autonomous vehicles that will replace its legions of drivers. Our view is that the company is looking to ditch drivers and a driver vs. Uber war will eventually erupt. In Pittsburgh, the company has given a demonstration of its current driverless program.
Starting today, the company’s pilot program for driverless cars will get underway. A fleet of autonomous Ford Fusions will be hitting the streets of Pittsburgh and will pick up customers who have specifically decided to participate in the pilot program. These cars have the ability to operate mostly on their own without driver input.
However, an Uber engineer will always be present in the driver seat. The company says the cars can navigate on their own, but the engineer is there to take control if it becomes necessary. The autonomous market is set to expand quickly in the coming years. Major tech companies and automakers are competing to bring their vehicles to market.
Uber is not likely to expand into making its own vehicles, but will likely strike deals with car manufacturers to bring its driverless service to the cities around the world. Ford is the partner right now, and together the companies have become the first to make driverless cars available to the public on American roads.
“That pilot really pushes the ball forward for us,” said Raffi Krikorian, Director of Uber Advanced Technologies Center (ATC) in Pittsburgh, the company’s main facility for testing self-driving vehicles. “We think it can help with congestion, we think it can make transportation cheaper and more accessible for the vast majority of people.”
One reporter from the Associated Press got on board with Uber to test the autonomous service. The in-city route went well, including easy passage through streets and over bridges. The car stopped correctly, behaved with awareness around traffic. The human driver needed to take over to park the vehicle, showing that Uber is not ready to cut the vehicles loose on their own just yet.