If you're the kind of person who uses a car service every now and then, you should consider this very good news: Uber's self-driving research car was seen in Pittsburgh this week, demonstrating that the company's push for automated vehicles is well in progress. The news was broken by the Pittsburgh Business Times on Thursday, and it's pretty exciting. Although the test car isn't automated itself, a large piece of roof-mounted technology sets it apart from other cars on the road, as well as the mysterious words written across the vehicle's side — "Uber Advanced Technologies Center."
If you haven't been keeping up with the automotive tech news in recent months, the advent of self-driving cars seems to be growing close with each passing day. Ostensibly a far safer and more convenient means of road travel, Google has put years of work into this in a very public way, and in early February, Uber announced they were working towards the same end. Self-driving car technology may sound mind-blowing, but spotting the Uber test car in Pittsburgh lets you see just the kind of preparation and testing that goes into such a project.
This doesn't mean you should expect a new, driverless vehicle fleet all that soon, however. In an email to Bustle, Uber made it clear that the vehicle represents just the early phase of the project — the research car does, in fact, have a driver.
This is not a self-driving test car. This vehicle is part of our early research efforts regarding mapping, safety and autonomy systems.
Frankly, there are understandable reasons people might feel wary of self-driving cars. Some drivers may simply feel more secure when they're in control, regardless of what the statistics might say. But it's worth being clear-eyed about just how unsafe driving is as a mode of transportation. By the numbers, it's by far the most potentially lethal mode of travel, and human error inevitably factors into that heavily. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 32,719 people died in car crashes in 2013.
According to Google, throughout their research and testing efforts, their self-driving cars have only sustained 11 accidents over the 1.7 million miles they've driven on California roads, and the company insists that none of them were the fault of the automated system, but rather the result of errors by other drivers.
This could be especially beneficial for a serivce like Uber, to boot. While you might feel like gripping the wheel yourself if given the option, it's also fair to prefer a self-driving car to a ride from a relative stranger, however well-trained and professional they might be. It'll yet be a while before this brave new world is upon us, however — Google's estimate is that they produce an autonomous car by 2020, and there could be predictabe stumbling blocks with necessary government regulations, so there's no telling just yet when Uber could achieve the same goal.
Image: Getty Imaages