Uber said on Thursday that it planned to test a self-driving car on the streets of Pittsburgh, its first step toward becoming a company that uses robots instead of drivers to power its car-hailing service.
This means people around Pittsburgh will most likely spot a few unusual-looking Ford Fusions driving around the city’s bridges and streets in the coming weeks. The defining feature of Uber’s self-driving cars is that they have a visible battery of rooftop sensors.
They will also be clearly marked “Uber,” and there will be a person in the driver’s seat.
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 went on to say that the company was still “in the early days” of its self-driving effort, but it has been signaling a big investment into self-driving technology for a while.
“Are we going to be part of the future?” Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said in October. “Or are we going to resist the future, like that taxi industry before us?”
Uber opened its Pittsburgh lab 15 months ago. Uber’s blog post said the company chose Pittsburgh “as the home of our Advanced Technologies Center because of its world-class engineering talent and research facilities.” The company has poached 40 robotics researchers from Carnegie Mellon University, which is based in Pittsburgh.
Uber took a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter for a ride in its self-driving car. You can read about that experience here.