Uber has been working on developing its own self-driving tech behind closed doors for the past year and a half. It had recently shifted gears to set its taxis, mounted with an array of sensors and cameras free to roam the streets of Pittsburgh. Well, it seems that the road tests are now complete and the company is making its ambitious dream of self-driving taxis a reality with today’s announcement.

Putting all rumors to rest, Uber is excited to announce the official launch of its self-driving pilot program for the residents of ‘Steel City’ in United States. This pilot program, which is second in line after nuTonomy, is a big step forward for the American ride-hailing service.

This pilot is a big step forward. 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.

says co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick in a statement.

Starting today, some select ‘loyal’ customers will have the chance to hail an autonomous self-driving Uber to their destination. The company will send over a self-driving Uber if it is currently available, else you would have to suffice with the usual Uber X.

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Once the self-driving Uber( i.e a Ford Fusion) arrives at your doorstep, you’ll be asked to take a spot in the backseat of the car. A tablet device placed in front of you will direct you to start the autonomous ride when you’re ready to go. It will also use the car’s vision to show a view of the surroundings, where-in the roads will be shown in blue, and the objects in red.

Credits: TechCrunch
Credits: TechCrunch

You’ll be accompanied with a couple safety driver in the front seat because the self-driving tech isn’t perfect and requires human intervention in many conditions, including bad weather or lane change. They will also take over car controls in situations when the car cannot steer itself or determine the next step while riding.

Uber is currently deploying only four self-driving vehicles to cater to the loyal passengers of the service. It has already provided a brief tour(or ride-alongs) to reporters who believe that the self-driving taxi is safe and cool. While riding in the self-driving taxi, Reuters observed that,

The Uber car safely – and for the most part smoothly – stop at red lights and accelerate at green lights, travel over a bridge, move around a mail truck and slow for a driver opening a car door on a busy street. All without a person touching the controls.

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Though I’ve not experienced the ride myself, but reading the viewpoints of various individuals on the interwebs makes me realize that Uber hasn’t completely perfected the technology – which isn’t exactly possible without a trial. There are a few situations where the car doesn’t even know what to do and the safety rider needs to take control. But, the overall reaction to the beginning of the public self-driving tests is fairly enthusiastic and postive. The childish scream that escapes your mouth when you see the steering and gears move by itself, is enough to justify the same.

Uber has launched a public test because it knows that the self-driving cars are not perfect and the public feedback will definitely help them improve it in the near future. This is huge feat for the future of transportation, but Kalanick believes,

Even when these technology issues get fixed, we believe ridesharing will be a mix—with services provided by both drivers and Self-Driving Ubers. This is because of the limits of self-driving software and the skyrocketing demand for better transportation.

The company will now rigourously work out of its Advanced Technologies Center (ATC) in Pittsburgh to provide the aforemtioned ride-hailing services to its customers. The team of researchers at the ATC, along with recent acquisition Otto will focus on analysing the data collected from public rides, and using the same to further improve the tech.

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It will also start work on integrating Uber’s ridesharing network with the extensive and advanced self-driving software and hardware. Building a strong ridesharing network combined with new and upgraded self-driving cars developed in partnership with Volvo will soon be hitting the streets to ensure a world-class customer experience.

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