Here's our first official look at Uber's self-driving car

Uber said on Thursday that it plans to test a self-driving car on the streets of Pittsburgh, the first step towards becoming a company that uses robots to power its taxi service instead of contracted drivers.

This means people on the bridges and streets around Pittsburgh will likely spot a few unique-looking Ford Fusions driving around the coming weeks. The defining feature of Uber’s self-driving cars is that they have a battery of sensors installed on their roofs.

They will also be clearly marked “Uber” and there will be a person in the driver’s seat.

From Uber’s announcement blog post:

The car, a hybrid Ford Fusion, will be collecting mapping data as well as testing its self-driving capabilities. When it’s in self-driving mode, a trained driver will be in the driver’s seat monitoring operations. The Uber ATC car comes outfitted with a variety of sensors including radars, laser scanners, and high resolution cameras to map details of the environment.

Uber goes on to say that the company is still “in the early days” of their self-driving effort, but it’s been signalling a big investment into self-driving technology for a while.

“Are we going to be part of the future?” Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said last October. “Or are we going to resist the future, like that taxi industry before us?

Uber’s blog post says that it “chose the Steel City as the home of our Advanced Technologies Center because of its world-class engineering talent and research facilities.” Another reason its self-driving program is based in Pittsburgh is because it has poached 40 robotics researchers from Carnegie Mellon, based in Pittsburgh. Uber opened its Pittsburgh lab 15 months ago.

Uber took a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter for a ride in its self-driving car. You can read about that experience here.

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