Uber releases fleet of self-driving vehicles to select few in Pittsburgh

Starting today, a select group of Uber users in Pittsburgh, PA will have the ability to request a self-driving vehicle. If a self-driving vehicle is in the area, Uber will send it, as well as a safety driver, to drive loyal customers to their destination.

The announcement to give customers the opportunity to get a ride in one of Uber's self-driving vehicles comes roughly a year and a half after the company set up its Advanced Technologies Center in the city. On Tuesday, the company offered a few members of the press the opportunity to ride in one of the company's self-driving cars. The fleet, despite Uber's collaboration with Volvo, was comprised of 14 Ford Fusions equipped with a host of self-driving technology, reports TechCrunch.

Uber is giving away free rides as a way to obtain real-world testing, which is crucial for self-driving technology. Recently, nuTonomoy beat Uber to the punch by launching the world's first autonomous taxis in Singapore. While the choice to release its self-driving cars in Pittsburgh mainly comes down to the fact that its ATC is located there, the city faces four seasons and its difficult streets that are comprised of bridges, railroad lines, and an irregular grid layout will prove to be a challenge for the autonomous cars.

Since the self-driving vehicles are still being tested, the cars will come with two full-time Uber employees. One employee will loosely grasp the car's steering wheel, ready to take over if something goes awry, while the other will monitor the computer's software.

As TechCrunch points out, Uber's autonomous vehicles drove in a similar manner to a regular driver. It obeyed traffic laws, mimicked a driver by coming to stops gently and at other times abruptly, as well as driving slightly into another lane to dodge a poorly-parked vehicle, reports TechCrunch.

There's no word on whether regular Uber customers will get a ride in one of the company's Fusions or one of the Volvo's that its working on. Automakers and companies alike have been in a race to put autonomous vehicles on the road. Tesla recently updated its Autopilot system, Apple laid off dozens of employees to reboot its self-driving car project, and Google is working giving its autonomous vehicle the ability to detect emergency vehicles.

While this is a large step for Uber, vehicles with autonomous capabilities still have a long way to go.

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