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Last year, ride-sharing company Uber founded a research center in Pittsburgh, with a focus on the development of autonomous driving technologies, as part of its plans to launch a fleet of self-driving taxis further down the road.
Engineers at the Uber Advanced Technologies Center have been busy working on vehicle autonomy, digital mapping, and safety, aiming to bring fully autonomous cars to the road as a means of improving traffic safety and providing commuters with an affordable and convenient alternative transportation option.
Now, the world's leading ride-sharing service has unveiled its first self-driving car prototype, launching a testing program on the streets of Pittsburgh.
Driverless Ford Fusion Hybrid
Uber has announced in a blog post that it has started testing a Ford Fusion Hybrid equipped with autonomous driving technology, including cameras, lasers and radars, mounted on its rooftop, resembling the driverless vehicle prototypes that Google has been testing for a few years now.
The company states that the research car will be primarily focused on collecting data that will be used to create accurate digital maps, along with testing its self-driving capabilities. During the tests, the self-driving Fusion Hybrid will switch between autonomous and human-driven mode. When in self-driving state, a licensed driver will be sitting behind the wheel, to monitor the vehicle's systems and take control in case of emergency.
“Real-world testing is critical to our efforts to develop self-driving technology. Self-driving cars have the potential to save millions of lives and improve quality of life for people around the world. 1.3 million people die every year in car accidents — 94% of those accidents involve human error,” says Uber in a statement.
One of the reasons why Uber chose Pittsburgh as a place to start its driverless car testing is that the city's streets include lots of different types of surfaces, which will give researchers the opportunity to find out how the vehicle handles various road conditions.
“From the first steel mills to the laboratories at Pitt and Carnegie Mellon, Pittsburgh has a long history of innovation. 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. We’re excited that Uber has chosen the Steel City as they explore new technologies that can improve people’s lives — through increased road safety, less congestion, and more efficient and smarter cities,” stated William Peduto, Mayor of Pittsburgh.
Replacing the Driver to Cut Costs and Increase Safety
Uber's self-driving car program is motivated by a few factors. For starters, there is the obvious safety benefit, that is also the main reason behind Google's decision to launch a driverless car project. Autonomous vehicles are widely expected to dramatically improve road safety, by eliminating human error, which is among the leading causes of motor vehicle crashes.
In addition to safety, there is the financial component, as well. By launching autonomous cars, Uber will no longer have the need to hire drivers to give rides to passengers through its ride-hailing app, and that would save the company a lot of money, given that the largest portion of Uber's operating costs goes toward driver wages.