Uber testing self-driving cars on Pittsburgh streets

Ronny Kerr · May 19, 2016 · Short URL: https://vator.tv/n/4589

Self-driving test in eastern U.S. city is the first for the ridesharing company on live city streets

Mark another step forward in the inevitable march toward self-driving cars.

Uber today announced that it is deploying self-driving cars on the streets of Pittsburgh in order to collect mapping data as well as to test the cars’ self-driving capabilities.

For this program, Uber is using a hybrid Ford Fusion augmented with a bevy of sensors on top of the car, including radars, laser scanners, and high-resolution cameras for collecting mapping data. The car and associated program were developed at Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center, which is based in Pittsburgh. Uber says it chose Pittsburgh both for its engineering talent pool, existing research facilities, and because the city has a wide variety of road types, traffic patterns, and weather conditions for testing.

As far as I know, this is Uber’s first live test of self-driving cars on actual city streets, but I’ve reached out to the company to confirm.

The news comes just a couple weeks after reports emerged that Lyft and its big automaker partner General Motors (GM) were planning on testing self-driving electric cars on city streets sometime this year. Once again, it appears that Lyft’s much bigger, much better funded competitor beat them to the punch.

Also, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Uber has chosen to use cars from GM’s Detroit rival, Ford, to test its self-driving program. While the ridesharing company hasn’t yet inked any deals with automakers as official as Lyft has with GM, Uber last month did hire Sherif Marakby, the former director of global electronics and engineering at Ford.

Contrary to its early days of skirting the law, Uber received a blessing for its self-driving test from Pittsburgh’s city hall:

“From the first steel mills to the laboratories at Pitt and Carnegie Mellon, Pittsburgh has a long history of innovation,” said William Peduto, Mayor of Pittsburgh, in a prepared statement. “Now we’re taking another step forward, this time as home to Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center, where some of the world’s leading innovators are helping to shape the future of transportation.”

Though Uber, Lyft, various tech companies, and various automakers are completely entangled in a race to see who can develop the best technology the fastest while securing the most effective business partnerships, there’s one thing they can all agree on: the need to lobby for better self-driving rules.

Last month, Google, Lyft, and Uber teamed up with automakers Ford and Volvo to create the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, a lobbying group intended to influence the federal government into accelerating rules or regulations that would permit self-driving cars on the road. The coalition is brand new, so we’ve yet to see it take any tangible action.

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Uber is a ridesharing service headquartered in San Francisco, United States, which operates in multiple international cities. The company uses a smartphone application to arrange rides between riders and drivers.