Uber is moving forward with its first real-world test of their self driving cars in Pittsburgh this month. According to a report from Bloomberg, the automatic test vehicles will hit the road, intermingled with their traditional fleet and will include both a human supervisor in the driver’s seat (a legal requirement) and a co-pilot taking notes from the passenger seat.
Volvo and Uber signed an agreement earlier this year to spend $300 million to develop a fully autonomous car that will be ready for the road by 2021, though the deal is not exclusive as Uber plans to partner with other manufactures in its race for autonomy. The modified Volvo XC90 SUVs will be available to normal Uber customers, though the rides are complementary, offering the rider a tablet to learn about the car’s capabilities. The cars are outfitted with dozens of sensors that use cameras, lasers, radar, and GPS receivers. The supervising engineers will be carefully babysitting the car with “fingertips on the wheel” and chimes to alarm the driver when they should take control.
Tesla, Google and Ford are all serious players in the auto-auto race. Ford announced earlier this week that it too will have a fully autonomous car on the road by 2021. Between Google’s relatively slow progression with automated vehicles and Tesla’s fatal crash last month, Uber may be jumping in prematurely. According to Raffi Krikorians the company’s own engineering director, it’s only a matter of time before something bad happens: “We’re interacting with reality every day,” he says. “It’s coming.”