Uber Launching Self-Driving Ride-Share Vehicles In Pittsburgh This Month

Image courtesy of Uber

The ride-sharing experience of the future is coming to Pittsburgh this month, when Uber will launch a fleet of autonomous cars — custom Volvo XC90s — that come with a human being to supervise in the driver’s seat.

While many experts would say truly self-driving cars are years from hitting the road, Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick sees it differently.

“We are going commercial,” he told Bloomberg Businessweek. “This can’t just be about science.”

Starting later this month, Uber will allow customers in downtown Pittsburgh to summon self-driving cars from their phones, leapfrogging over companies like Google and Tesla, who have also been working on autonomous vehicles. Once they’ve requested a car, they’ll be paired with a driverless vehicle at random, though the test cars will for now come with safety drivers.

They’re trained engineers who sit with their hands on the wheel, prepared to take over if something unexpected happens. A copilot will assist from the passenger seat, taking notes, and everything is recorded by cameras inside and outside the vehicle. There’s also a tablet in the backseat telling passengers what’s going on, and urging them to pretend the other humans aren’t there.

“The goal is to wean us off of having drivers in the car, so we don’t want the public talking to our safety drivers,” Raffi Krikorian, the company’s engineering director, told Bloomberg.

Trips will be totally free at first, instead of $1.30 per mile, the local rate for Uber in Pittsburgh. Eventually, prices will fall so much that the cost of a driverless ride will be a lot cheaper than one in a private car, Kalanick says. As for why the company picked Pittsburgh — it’s where Uber has been working with robotics experts at Carnegie Mellon University.

Volvo will be providing about 100 cars for the fleet by the end of the year, though Uber will also be working with other carmakers as well.

Uber’s First Self-Driving Fleet Arrives in Pittsburgh This Month [Bloomberg Businessweek]