First, there were people driving their own cars, then people driving other people around, and now plans are underway for cars to drive people around … without a human driver.
Uber is behind this recent evolution in transportation as they announced to the public that they would be testing a driverless car in the streets of Pittsburgh in upcoming weeks. The Uber Newsroom released a statement on its blog explaining what exactly the company is doing:
“The car, a hybrid Ford Fusion, will be collecting mapping data as well as testing its self-driving capabilities. When it’s in self-driving mode, a trained driver will be in the driver’s seat monitoring operations. The Uber ATC car comes outfitted with a variety of sensors including radars, laser scanners, and high-resolution cameras to map details of the environment.”
The vehicle comes from Uber’s Advanced Technology Center (ATC) in Pittsburgh, and these tests are in preparation for a launch of self-driving cars by 2020. These advances in Uber’s driving technology are thanks to the help of robotics experts from Carnegie Mellon Universities who have been working on this project for about a year now.
Uber backs up their driverless car plans with statistics about the lives that could be saved based on the amount of accidents, injuries, and deaths that come from driving. Uber Newsroom reported that “1.3 million people die every year in car accidents — 94% of those accidents involve human error.” By introducing driverless cars into the picture, Uber hopes to cut that number down significantly.
Making roads safer for all drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and cyclists is obviously a priority of the successful startup, but this move would also help Uber financially. CEO Travis Kalanick has mentioned that their drivers are the most expensive part of their company, so eliminating them would cut back their costs. There have also been recent debates about whether Uber drivers are independent contractors or employees. Uber paid California and Massachusetts drivers as much as $100 million to settle lawsuits over this issue. With driverless cars, this would no longer be a problem.
Uber isn’t the first one to announce their work with autonomous driving technology. Earlier this month, Lyft said it was working with General Motors Co. on self-driving technology. Luff made this move with the motive of challenging Silicon Valley and their plans to change the auto industry.
There will still be some hurdles for Uber to jump over as they figure out how to make their cars work with safety regulations, but self-driving taxi cars are just over the horizon.