After months of development, Uber’s self-driving taxis will hit roads in downtown Pittsburgh this month to pick up their first passengers, free of charge. The test convoy consists of modified Volvo XC90s SUVs assigned randomly to customers via the company’s app, Bloomberg reports.
Uber co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick flew out to Pittsburgh, the home of Carnegie Mellon University’s robotics department, in 2014 to further the ride-hailing company’s ultimate goal of replacing its more than one million human drivers with a fully autonomous system. By early 2016, Uber had built a team of hundreds of engineers, mechanicists and roboticists at its Advanced Technologies Center. The company then released the first photo of a prototype modified Ford Fusion in May.
Although Uber is advancing quickly, complete autonomy is still a ways off. Test vehicles will be supervised by someone in the driver’s seat, per legal requirement, with chimes alerting them of when to take control. The fleet is equipped with “dozens of sensors that use cameras, lasers, radar and GPS receivers,” as well as backset tablets to inform passengers of the vehicle’s capabilities, per Bloomberg. These features are what has pushed the car-sharing company to be the first commercial self-driving service on the market.
Google, widely hailed as the leader in the field, has been conducting extensive testing for years, but is still limited to custom cars maxing out at 25 miles per hour. Tesla’s autopilot technology is slowly becoming more functional, despite July’s fatal crash, which is currently being investigated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Ford announced earlier this week that it, too, has plans for a fully autonomous ride-sharing service by 2021, the same goal set by a $300-million agreement between Volvo and Uber.