Uber announced last week that they will soon be offering Pittsburgh customers the option to ride in a self-driving Ford Fusion. They are testing this service there since the Uber self-driving car research facility is also in that area. This is a chance to test out the future, and it’s going to be free, at least while they are in test mode.
Don’t think they aren’t also taking care of safety concerns. Self-driving technology is not totally perfected, so no one will find themselves sitting in a car without a driver anytime soon. All self-driving Uber cars come fully equipped with a person behind the wheel to deal with any possible emergency situations. Bryant Walker Smith, who studies self-driving tech as a professor at the University of South Carolina, said, “Part of this is marketing in the sense that they’re going to be doing continued research and development of these systems.”
But hey, for sci-fi and techno fans, it might be worth a side trip to Pittsburgh just to take the free ride. Uber is placing a big bet on self-driving technology. In fact, the company CEO has even said this is all of the eggs in their basket for the future because once they get the technology perfected and no longer need drivers, catching a lift with Uber and no driver will be cheaper than buying and running a car.
For those same sci-fi fans, they have to be thinking of some of the most revered sci-fi films of all time, Blade Runner, I Robot, Minority Report, and Demolition Man, to name a few. There’s also the television programs – or movies inspired by them such as Batman, Transformers, and Knightrider. If Uber is thinking ahead, they could bring in some self-driving cars to ferry guests at local hotels whenever there’s a Comic-Con or other conventions like SWSX. Imagine the great PR associated with that, and hitting a big portion of the target demographic. Win-win!
Pennsylvania is the perfect place to test drive this approach for Uber since the state has no laws requiring a driver be present to operate a vehicle, though Pittsburgh does.
Of course, truly driverless cars are still in the future, too many unpredictable factors, ranging from other vehicles on the road and road hazards to dodgy weather conditions remain to be solved. But Timothy Carone, a professor at Notre Dame who has written about the future of automation, said about this experiment: “This is a way to get autonomous cars out there and accepted and increase the adoption rate. It will take a decade of testing before an 18-year-old can get in the car and tell it where to go.”
David Milberg is an NYC credit analyst.