According to Bloomberg, UBER will be rolling out self-driving custom Volvo XC90s in Pittsburgh this month. Rides in the vehicles — which will still be supervised by a human in the driver seat — will be free, but once UBER starts charging, its CEO predicts that "prices will fall so low" it will be cheaper than driving in a "private car." Don't worry displaced drivers! You can always switch to a rewarding career of picking up dog shit for a living. Thank you digital economy.
For now, Uber’s test cars travel with safety drivers, as common sense and the law dictate. These professionally trained engineers sit with their fingertips on the wheel, ready to take control if the car encounters an unexpected obstacle. A co-pilot, in the front passenger seat, takes notes on a laptop, and everything that happens is recorded by cameras inside and outside the car so that any glitches can be ironed out. Each car is also equipped with a tablet computer in the back seat, designed to tell riders that they’re in an autonomous car and to explain what’s happening. “The goal is to wean us off of having drivers in the car, so we don’t want the public talking to our safety drivers,” Krikorian says.
On a recent weekday test drive, the safety drivers were still an essential part of the experience, as Uber’s autonomous car briefly turned un-autonomous, while crossing the Allegheny River. A chime sounded, a signal to the driver to take the wheel. A second ding a few seconds later indicated that the car was back under computer control. “Bridges are really hard,” Krikorian says. “And there are like 500 bridges in Pittsburgh.”
Oh, and Otto joined UBER.
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