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Uber self-driving
An Uber self-driving car in Pittsburgh. (Via Uber)

Folks still getting used to the fact that they can relinquish their driving responsibilities to other humans can now start wrapping their heads around the idea of someday catching an Uber that has no human at all. The ride-hailing company started the push to make that a reality in Pittsburgh today.

Through the work of its Pittsburgh-based Advanced Technologies Center, Uber unleashed a fleet of Ford Fusions on its most loyal customers, with the hope that real-world testing will eventually pave the way for “a viable alternative to individual car ownership” that is “important to the future of cities.”

Self-driving Ubers in Pittsburgh still have a driver up front, even if that person doesn’t have their hands on the wheel at all times. The cars are loaded with multiple cameras and other technology to help point the way.

In a blog post on the Uber Newsroom site, the company’s Anthony Levandowski and Travis Kalanick wrote that the self-driving cars still require human intervention in many conditions, including bad weather. Furthermore, the limits of self-driving software will continue to require ride hailing to be a mix of people-powered and self-powered cars.

But their optimism about future potential touches on everything from reducing traffic fatalities to freeing up more time for people stuck in congested cities.

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.

News of humans getting into driverless cars on real city streets proved to be a big deal Wednesday morning, and Carnegie Melon University President Subra Suresh and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto were the first test riders. CMU set up the research partnership with Uber.

 

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