Did Uber just make self-driving cars a reality? We review the recent unveiling in Pittsburgh, on Wednesday, and discuss the pros and cons.
Published: Friday, September 16th 2016
This Wednesday, Uber gave 1000 loyal customers the chance to test out their self-driving vehicles in Pittsburgh, US.The four self-driving Ford Fusions are just the start for the company, who plan to roll out as many as 100 Volvo SUVs to the pilot by the end of the year. Ambitious, one might say.Each self-driving Uber is currently monitored by two engineers. One to assume control if the car gets into a situation it can't navigate and another to track the performance of the vehicle on a program.To hail a self-driving Uber - there is no difference to what you are used to. Open the app, request a car and wait for it to arrive. Journalists who were invited to the debut of the self-driving Ubers were even asked to rate the ride. Yet, instead of the drivers name, it said, "Self-Driving Uber".All information gathered from a self-driving Uber ride is fed back to ATC (Uber Advanced Technologies Center). Here it is shared with other self-driving vehicles which enables them to learn from the experience.
So, What is it Like Driving in a Self-Driving Uber?
The Pilot gave a select few insight into how these cars operate. In the backseat, passengers have access to a touch screen that shows how the car is 'viewing' the world.These multi-coloured topographical lines are used to determine how far away objects are and how tall they are. Passengers can also see the car's current speed on the map and it's next (very detailed) intended moves. According to a journalist at Quartz, the touchscreen forewarns passengers that it plans to brake.Naturally, since this was the pilot test, not everything was perfect. Journalists said that the car didn't seem to operate like an average human drive - it was hyper efficient:
It drives the exact speed limit (i.e. if you are driving in an 80km/h zone, it will go 80km) likewise, when the speed limit increases (i.e 100km/h) it rushes to meet this limit.
Journalists almost had a heart attack when approaching trucks, the Uber did not slow down, instead, it anticipated how long it would take the truck to pass through the intersection before the Uber reached it.
The speed confidence seemed to fall short when approaching traffic lights where the car slowed down and then sped up when it registered they were green.
Concerns For Self-Driving Ubers?
While it is encouraging to see how technology is progressing, it is clear, we are still far away from completely unsupervised Uber rides. The operating decisions experienced in the self-driving Uber make perfect sense for a robot. But the roads are not full of robots and human error is found on a daily occurrence.More testing and provisions for navigating a busy city road with traffic, pedestrians, bridges and many other obstacles is certainly needed.Uber released a statement from CEO, Travis Kalanick and Founder of Self-Driving Technology, Anthony Levandowski:
Of course, we can’t predict exactly what the future will hold. But we know that self-driving Ubers have enormous potential to further our mission and improve society; reducing the number of traffic accidents, which today kill 1.3 million people a year; freeing up the 20 percent of space in cities currently used to park the world’s billion plus cars; and cutting congestion, which wastes trillions of hours every year.
Many suppose the sudden and quick unveiling of the self-driving vehicles is a bid to beat industry competitors Google and Tesla - who have said they will only be releasing products in 2018 or 2020.
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