Radar, laser and camera systems enable taxi to manoeuvre autonomously in real-world tests.
Uber claims self-driving taxis could make roads safer
The Uber Advanced Technology Centre is testing a self-driving taxi in Pittsburgh, United States. This Ford Fusion – which is better known as Mondeo in the United Kingdom – has a range of systems to facilitate autonomous operation some of which can be seen on its roof. Highlights include: radar, laser and high-resolution cameras.
The vehicle is collecting mapping data as it travels through the city which is known for its steel industry. Engineers are also monitoring how effectively it steers, accelerates and brakes while negotiating the countless hazards found in congested areas. A “trained driver” is on hand to take over should there be a problem.
Uber explained: “Right now we’re focused on getting the technology right and ensuring it’s safe for everyone on the road — pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers. Real-world testing is critical to our efforts to develop self-driving technology”, it added.
And safety seems to be one of the company's priorities. It argued: “1.3 million people die every year in car accidents (and) 94% of those accidents involve human error. In the future, we believe this technology will mean less congestion, more affordable and accessible transportation - and far fewer lives lost in accidents.”
Uber has a history of providing innovative services. Motorists can book a taxi via an application on a smartphone, for example. This confirms the driver's location, picture, and registration number of the vehicle. Payment is automated using a pre-registered bank card.
Passengers can also choose a type of car based on need. Options include: UberX (“cheap, fast and reliable”), UberXL (more “spacious”), UberEXEC (“discrete executive quality”), UberLUX (“ultimate luxury”) and UberPOOL (“shared” with others so cheaper).
Pittsburgh Mayor welcomes self-driving taxi trail
Mayor of Pittsburgh, William Peduto, welcomed the taxi firm's trial. He explained: “Pittsburgh has a long history of innovation. Now we’re taking another step forward, this time as home to Uber’s Advanced Technologies Centre where some of the world’s leading innovators are helping to shape the future of transportation.”
“He continued: “We’re excited that Uber has chosen the Steel City as they explore new technologies that can improve people’s lives”. He also emphasised the perceived benefits of self-driving vehicles such as improved safety, less congestion and more efficient cities.
London taxi drivers concerned
But The London Taxi Drivers' Association is not sure autonomous cars best serve passengers. Steve McNamara, General Secretary, said: "Quite how a car without a driver is going to provide any sort of service to an elderly passenger, somebody in a wheelchair, or an out-of-towner not certain where they are going is beyond us.”