Captain Rick: The option to hail a ride in a self-driving car, which was science fiction just a few years ago, will soon be available to Uber users in Pittsburgh, the first time the technology has been offered to the general public. Within weeks customers will be able to opt into a test program and summon an autonomous Ford Fusion. But since the technology has not been perfected, the cars will come with human backup drivers to handle any unexpected situations.
Eventually there will come a day when driverless cars become common place and will be much safer than the large percentage of todays cars with idiots behind the wheel, texting and doing everything but paying attention to driving, including those driving under the influence. I would feel much safer having cars around me that pack a million dollars worth of technology watching the road and controlling the vehicle, than ones driven by idiots not watching the road at all.
Uber has a self-driving research lab in Pittsburgh. Uber-branded test cars have been on Pittsburgh roads for several months. Other companies including Google are testing self-driving cars on public roads, but none offers rides to regular people. As an enticement, the autonomous rides will be free. If I lived in Pittsburgh, I would be one of its first riders.
It will be a few years before autonomous cars will acquire a license to drive on their own. This is a way to get autonomous cars out there and become accepted on the roadways. New technology begins somewhere. Pittsburgh is one of those places and Uber is an innovative, driving force. The real breakthrough for autonomous cars will happen when a company puts one on public roads without a backup human. For now, like a motorcycle canyon jumper with a safety net, Uber isn’t ready to take the big leap … but perhaps one day soon it will be.