Passengers in Pittsburgh, California now have a choice to be driven around the city by an Uber cab that drives itself. Uber has introduced its self driving car project in the city. Although the concept that has been a subject of discussion for a while now, debut of Uber s self driving car marks a milestone, as it is probably the first time that an autonomous car has been available for regular use to public. Last month, Uber had announced a $300 million deal with Swedish car maker Volvo to develop fully driverless, or autonomous, cars by 2021, along with that it had also announced the $680 million acquisition of Otto, a San Francisco-based startup focused on self-driving trucks. Also Read - Uber cab service resumed in 31 cities in India with new Lockdown 4.0 guidelinesAlso Read - Uber launches 'Uber Connect' package delivery service to rival Dunzo and Swiggy Genie
However, the self-driving car project by Uber in Pittsburgh does not mean that the city will now have driverless cars steering around. According to a report by Reuters, for now there will be only four self-driving vehicles available to passengers in the city, to start with. And for safety purposes, there will be two people seated in the front to take over driving when the car cannot steer itself. Also, the fleet of Uber s self driving cars in Pittsburgh right now consists of Ford Fusion cars, which are outfitted with 3D cameras, global positioning systems (GPS) and a technology called Lidar, which uses lasers to assess the shape and distance of objects, mounted somewhat crudely to the vehicle s roof. The reports also suggested that the company is also planning on adding Volvo SUVs to its fleet. Also Read - Uber to operate 'Essential' cab service to hospitals and pharmacy stores in 4 cities
A New York Times report outlines a reporter’s experience riding Uber s self driving car. He explains how the autonomous car features a switch that the driver behind the wheel can turn up to disengage the car from self-driving mode. And to turn the self-driving feature back on, the driver can simply press button next on the console. Additionally, if a passenger feels unsafe, even they could request that the driver take over the vehicle, or press a button on a screen facing the back seat that would end the ride.
TechCrunch‘s Signe Brewster writes that the cars come with pre-collected maps, which have information such as speed limit in particular area. “The cars receive pre-collected maps that include speed limits and other generally applicable information so they can focus on real-time detection of variables like pedestrians. Uber logs each of its road tests and uses the data to tweak how the cars should respond in specific situations. For example, the cars know that when they arrive at a four-way stop they should drive on in order of when they arrived,” he further wrote. Also read: Uber rolls out new features for its drivers app
While Uber s self driving car project has already hit the road, other companies that have been working on their autonomous vehicle project for a while now are still in the testing phase. Google has a seven-year head start on self-driving-car research. Automobile manufacturers like Tesla, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Infiniti already offer semi-autonomous driving features in some vehicles. Even tech company Apple has been working on its own highly-secretive project of driverless cars, which is named as the Project Titan. However, unfortunately, these companies, especially, Google and Tesla have had few safety-related incidents lately, which have been constantly delaying their debut. In May, the self-driving car community was left in shock when Joshua Brown, 40, of Ohio was killed when his Tesla Model S electric sedan crashed into a tractor-trailer while on auto-pilot mode. Tagged as the first known fatal accident involving a self-driving vehicle, preliminary investigation indicated that the crash took place when the tractor-trailer turned into the Tesla s path and the auto-pilot failed to apply the brakes. Also read: Google takes blame for their self driving car hit a public bus
With new projects, new concerns always step in, but the project of autonomous vehicles is a brilliant platform for innovation, and big step towards the future. In fact, the driverless car project by international tech companies encouraged innovation too back home in India as well. Earlier this year, a man successfully managed to convert his Tata Nano into an autonomous car. Dr Roshy John and his team chose a Tata Nano, it is one of the few cars out there with an engine fitted at the back. This setup allowed them to add all the necessary sensors up front. Additionally, unlike the cities where Google tests its driverless cars, the road and traffic conditions in India are much worse and unpredictable. But John s team kept working on its sensors, and also mounted cameras on their standard cars to fine tune the algorithm .