Excerpted from The Sun: Self-driving Uber vehicles have hit the streets today as the industry predicts the technology could be as little as five years away from replacing normal cars .
Residents in the US city of Pittsburgh began using the new technology under Uber’s self-driving pilot program.
Automotive industry executives remain sharply divided over a timeline for a full roll-out of the technology, with some expecting fully autonomous cars within five years and others predicting they are still decades away.
The Pittsburgh pilot is the first time self-driving cars have been so freely available to the public.
Four self-driving vehicles will be made available to passengers, to start, but two people will sit in the front to take-over driving when the car cannot steer itself.
he fleet consists of Ford Fusion cars outfitted with 3D cameras, global positioning systems (GPS) and a technology called lidar that uses lasers to assess the shape and distance of objects, mounted somewhat crudely to the vehicle’s roof.
However, the company is also outfitting Volvo SUVs that will be added to the fleet.
Uber provided test ride-alongs to the media yesterday.
During a ride of about one hour, the Uber cars were observed safely – and for the most part smoothly – stop at red lights and accelerate at green lights, travel over a bridge, move around a mail truck and slow for a driver opening a car door on a busy street.
And it was all done without a person touching the controls.
But the Uber driver and the engineer in the front two seats did intervene every few miles.
The Uber driver in the front seat took control, according to company protocol, to allow pedestrians to cross the street, maneuver through a construction zone and make a left turn across traffic at an intersection.
An Uber engineer sat in the passenger seat, occasionally adjusting the speed of the car, which mostly drove slowly.
Among the residents, there are mixed responses.
On the ride-along, some stared at the autonomous car with mouth-gaping awe; another gave the car the middle finger.
Others, like Robert Armitage, 55 and a lifelong resident of Pittsburgh, are excited for his city – but skeptical of Uber’s ambitions.
“I am absolutely skeptical as to whether they can pull it off in the winter, he said.
“Pittsburgh is awfully far north for this kind of experiment.”
The launch of Uber’s self-driving pilot program marks the public unveiling of the company’s secretive work in autonomous vehicles. Keep reading