Hey, I’m all for technology. I’m also all for calling a cab or Uber if I need to. But what if that meant getting in a driverless car? Would you still be comfortable? It’s not so futuristic…it’s happening in Pittsburg beginning this month. So, be on the lookout!
Near the end of 2014, Uber co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick flew to Pittsburgh on a mission: to hire dozens of the world’s experts in autonomous vehicles. The city is home to Carnegie Mellon University’s robotics department, which has produced many of the biggest names in the newly hot field. Sebastian Thrun, the creator of Google’s self-driving car project, spent seven years researching autonomous robots at CMU, and the project’s former director, Chris Urmson, was a CMU grad student.
“Travis had an idea that he wanted to do self-driving,” says John Bares, who had run CMU’s National Robotics Engineering Center for 13 years before founding Carnegie Robotics, a Pittsburgh-based company that makes components for self-driving industrial robots used in mining, farming, and the military. “I turned him down three times. But the case was pretty compelling.” Bares joined Uber in January 2015 and by early 2016 had recruited hundreds of engineers, robotics experts, and even a few car mechanics to join the venture. The goal: to replace Uber’s more than 1 million human drivers with robot drivers—as quickly as possible.
Starting later this month, Uber will allow customers in downtown Pittsburgh to summon self-driving cars from their phones, crossing an important milestone that no automotive or technology company has yet achieved. Google, widely regarded as the leader in the field, has been testing its fleet for several years, and Tesla Motors offers Autopilot, essentially a souped-up cruise control that drives the car on the highway. Earlier this week, Ford announced plans for an autonomous ride-sharing service. But none of these companies has yet brought a self-driving car-sharing service to market.
Uber’s Pittsburgh fleet, which will be supervised by humans in the driver’s seat for the time being, consists of specially modified Volvo XC90 sport-utility vehicles outfitted with dozens of sensors that use cameras, lasers, radar, and GPS receivers. Volvo Cars has so far delivered a handful of vehicles out of a total of 100 due by the end of the year. The two companies signed a pact earlier this year to spend $300 million to develop a fully autonomous car that will be ready for the road by 2021.
Personally, like all other new technology that comes on the market, I’d like to wait until Uber gets all the ‘bugs’ worked out with their programs for their driverless cars. I can’t imagine how this will effect insurance rates or insurance companies. Though, I do have to say…it should make for a very interesting Halloween this year. I see a lot of pranks coming…like this one…
or how about this one…?
So Hey! Let’s be careful out there…especially if you’re in Pittsburg and you see a Uber self-driving car. One thing’s for certain, you won’t be able to flip the guy the bird…there won’t be any guy to flip to! And thank goodness I don’t live in San Francisco, I hear Uber’s testing big-rig trucks there.
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