As part of their bid to build an empire that consists of cars that drive themselves (yes, cars that drive sans driver), Uber just launched partially self-driving taxis. They started rolling along the streets of Pittsburgh today.
But don’t get too excited about taking one for a spin yourself, an engineer will be in the driver’s seat to get things started and make corrections if the car makes a mistake. And notably, the “partially autonomous” part is of importance, as drivers are always supposed to keep their hands loosely on the steering wheel so they can takeover when needed. To clarify, the car is the one doing the driving, but humans are needed for oversight.
A touch-screen is located in the backseat in order to give passengers all of the trip details, and a “liquid-cooled” computer will also be on-board, recording trip and map data in the trunk.
Hoping to hire the taxi yourself? That may be difficult, as individuals will be randomly assigned a self-driving car when they request an UberX ride on their app. But! Passengers who take a ride in the experimental self-driving cars will get their trip for free.
Notably, Uber plans to install self-driving kits into existing vehicles rather than build fully autonomous cars from the ground up. To that end, last month Uber acquired Otto, a company that works on retrofitting heavy-duty freight haulers on the highway in order to turn them into self-driving trucks.
Otto’s LIDAR (light detection and ranging) sensor technology detects infrared emissions to help monitor speed, and is geared to be adapted for use in Uber’s autonomous vehicles.
The future, my friends, truly is now.
By Jolene Creighton