Self-driving taxis are starting to hit the roads in America and abroad as Uber and others try to move first on the new technology.
Uber is set to begin testing a fleet of 100 self-driving taxis in Pittsburgh, a city of busy streets, bridges, and snowfall. Real customers will hail the taxis with smartphones as the ride-sharing company plans to perfect the technology and cut labor costs. Many companies are working on their own autonomous vehicle programs, but Uber’s push is particularly aggressive, even with two trained safety drivers on each ride. The project is sure to draw attention and give customers a chance to become familiar with the new technology while also exposing any flaws to public scrutiny.
Proponents of self-driving vehicle use say that human error causes a vast majority of traffic deaths; however, regulators will need more data to be sure that the technology is the solution. So far Google’s fleet of 50 cars has already logged over 1 million miles without a fatal accident, according to the company, but it will take more than 100 million miles in real-world conditions and plenty of debate before U.S. regulators can start making significant moves. Still, the technology already has a strong lobbying effort on its side.
The U.S. is not the only place where autonomous vehicles are in development. In Singapore, self-driving taxis are already picking up passengers as the startup nuTonomy sought to beat Uber to the chase though at only six cars to Uber’s 100.
For now, the taxis are only running in a 2.5-square-mile business and residential district called “one-north,” and pick-ups and drop-offs are limited to specified locations. The cars, like Uber’s, have a trained driver as well as a researcher to monitor the car’s computers. Singapore also makes for a less intense testing environment due to its good weather, infrastructure, drivers, and supportive government.
With testing reaching into cities, self-driving taxis are near ready for commercial use so all that’s left is to see how customers react.