Uber's driverless car service gets on the road

Four of the Ford Fusion hybrids, with their ungainly rooftop load of technology, were to be deployed yesterday on the challenging roads of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, steering themselves to pick up regular Uber passengers. Uber has at least a dozen mor
Four of the Ford Fusion hybrids, with their ungainly rooftop load of technology, were to be deployed yesterday on the challenging roads of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, steering themselves to pick up regular Uber passengers. Uber has at least a dozen more cars that are ready to go on the road.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PITTSBURGH • Uber has launched a ground-breaking driverless car service, jumping ahead of Detroit car giants and Silicon Valley rivals with technology that could revolutionise transportation.

In an ambitious experiment, a fleet of cars laden with lasers, cameras and other sensors - but with no one's hands on the wheel - were to be deployed by the Web-based ride service on the challenging roads of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, steering themselves to pick up regular Uber passengers.

Four of the Ford Fusion hybrids, with their ungainly rooftop load of technology, were to be deployed to a select group of customers yesterday. The firm has at least a dozen more cars that are ready to go on the road.

And Uber is well advanced in developing a self-drive car with Sweden's Volvo.

The cars and their backing technology were trained on the city's complicated grid for less than two years, but demonstration rides showed that they were able to handle most situations as ably as many drivers.

Still, just to be sure, the Pittsburgh Uber regulars who summon a driverless car will have two company technicians accompanying them - to make sure everything goes right.

One will sit behind the wheel, with hands at the ready to take over in sticky spots, while the other will monitor the car's behaviour.

Uber did not give a timeline, but it aims to eventually deploy just one technician - still behind the wheel - to intervene and satisfy existing state policies that require a driver in a car. The goal, Uber executives said, is to make zero interventions, and have no technician along for the ride.

However, Uber was beaten to the punch at launching the first driverless call service by the Singapore start-up nuTonomy, which put six cars on the road in the Republic last month in a trial service.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2016, with the headline 'Uber's driverless car service gets on the road'. Print Edition | Subscribe