Uber has launched a fleet of driverless taxis in the Steel City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Four driverless Ford Fusion taxis hit the streets on Wednesday morning and have already been giving lifts for customers. Although the taxis still have an attendant in the driver's seat for emergencies and an engineer on board, they are able to navigate the streets more-or-less autonomously with the help of seven traffic-light detecting cameras, a radar system, an advanced computer system, and 20 lasers used to map out the surrounding environment.
At the moment, the driverless taxis will only be available for their “most loyal Pittsburgh customers” as a trial project. Nevertheless, they have global plans for driverless Uber taxis to be “on the road 24 hours a day” in the future.
Uber's dreams of autonomous technologies have gathered steam over the past few months after acquiring Otto, a self-driving truck start-up, and partnering with Volvo to develop its next generation of self-driving cars.
Pittsburg was the city of choice because its notoriously narrow streets make it a tricky city to drive around. Raffi Krikorian, director of Uber Advanced Technologies Center, told Financial Times their mindset was that "if we really can master driving in Pittsburgh, we feel we have a good chance to master it in most other cities in the world.”
Additionally, Uber has drawn on a lot of research on autonomous vehicles carried out at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburg.
“This pilot is a big step forward," Anthony Levandowski, founder of partner-company Otto, said in an Uber blog post. "Real-world testing is critical to the success of this technology. And creating a viable alternative to individual car ownership is important to the future of cities."
He added: “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."
This isn’t the first company who have rolled driverless taxis onto the streets. Just last month, tech startup nuTonomy launched a similar trial project in Singapore with Mitsubishi i-MiEv electric vehicles.