Uber is getting serious about driverless tech.
The popular ride-hailing service started its endeavour into the driverless car space by poaching around 40 engineers from Carnegie Mellon University’s National Robotics Engineering Centre back in January. Since that time, Uber has acquired self-driving truck startup Otto for $300 million, and agreed to a $300 million alliance with Volvo to build self-driving cars.
And starting Wednesday, Uber will debut its efforts to the public by allowing select passengers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to hail a ride in one of its self-driving cars. At first the rides will be free, but an Uber spokesperson said that may change in time.
Unfortunately, just because you live in or are visiting Pittsburgh doesn’t mean you’ll get to hail a ride. Uber will send emails to its most “loyal” customers early Wednesday morning. Uber declined to clarify how many customers will get an email and what exactly qualifies as loyal, but the company did tell Business Insider that how often a user hails a ride played a role in determining loyalty.
But don’t be too hurt if you use Uber frequently and still don’t get an invite — it also depends on location. Uber’s cars can only operate in a limited area like downtown Pittsburgh and in the Shadyside neighbourhood, so those who hail frequently in those locations are more likely to be chosen to participate.
If you get an invite, you first have to agree that you’re OK getting picked up in one and being filmed during the ride. Uber is using the footage to gauge how people respond to being in a self-driving car so that it can figure out ways to reconfigure the ride experience to ensure people feel comfortable.
“This Pittsburgh pilot is our opportunity for real-world testing, so we can learn more about what makes riders feel comfortable and safe, and can continue to improve the Uber self-driving experience,” said Emily Bartel, product manager at Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center.
Once you confirm that you’re ok trying out Uber’s self-driving car experience, you can hail it by calling an UberX in the app. The app will alert you that a self-driving car is coming.
Once you’re inside, you’ll also have to confirm that you’re ready to ride and that there aren’t more than two passengers in the car. Uber places a limit because an engineer will take up the front seat to assess how the car is handling everything. There’s also a driver present to take over in case anything goes wrong.
You must also enter your route before the trip begins and cannot alter it at any point because the cars are geographically limited as to where they can drive.
From my experience, being in a self-driving Uber felt a lot like riding in a typical car. It’s definitely worth giving it a shot so you can see the tech firsthand.