Uber’s First Self-Driving Car

Uber’s first ever self-driving car is a Ford Fusion hybrid with what almost looks like an enormous speaker system fastened to the roof. Those aren’t speakers though; as one would expect from a self-driving car, it’s covered in cameras.

The autonomous Ford Fusions are currently navigating the streets of Pittsburgh, collecting mapping data and testing its self-driving capabilities. According to a blog post recently published by Uber, the cars are equipped with “radars, laser scanners, and high resolution cameras to map details of their environment.”

ford fusinoWhile the car may be technically driving itself, a trained driver remains behind the wheel for the sake of safety and security.

“While Uber is still in the early days of our self-driving efforts, every day of testing leads to improvements,” the company stated. “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.”

A reporter for¬†Pittsburgh’s Tribute-Review¬†was given the opportunity to ride in one of the cars, which constituted the first time that a member of the media was allowed to get up close and personal with the operation. The reporter, Aaron Aupperlee, had this to say about his time in the self-driving car:

“The car drove itself over the 31st Street Bridge and along River Avenue on the North Side before turning around at the Heinz Lofts. 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 anytime. The car’s sensors detected parked cars sticking out into traffic, jaywalkers, bicyclists and a goose crossing River Avenue.”

This event is the first time that Uber has actually officially confirmed that it’s testing its self-driving technology. Around this time last year, a fair amount of evidence was collected to deduce what they were up to in Pittsburgh, where Uber has set up its Advanced Technologies Center. However, any questions regarding their projects in 2015 went unanswered.

uber carPittsburgh has a diverse environment as a city, presenting a wide range of challeneges for Uber’s cars to navigate. According to the head of the ATC John Bares, “the city’s narrow and hilly streets, haphazard parking, rainy and snowy weather and aging infrastructure have made [Pittsburgh] a challenging place to test self-driving technology.”

Google has attracted a lot of attention in terms of its conspicuous self-driving car development efforts, but a lot of experts in the field have seen fit to watch Uber closely. Many assume that when self-driving cars are ready, they will initially be put to use as for-hire vehicles and that Uber is leading the for-hire vehicle market and therefore has the most to benefit from that development.

Recent headlines were made regarding laws that self-driving for-hire vehicles will need to have a driver seated in the front seat at all time.

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