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The Driverless Uber: The Start Of A New Era Or Just Hype?

Uber has started ferrying customers using its driverless vehicles, but a new experience may not feel revolutionary yet.

16Sep

Whilst Elon Musk is dealing with the issues surrounding Autopilot at Tesla, Google is still testing its self-driving project, and various driverless startups are trying to reach the market, Uber is deploying their driverless taxis ready for public use in Pittsburgh. It took Uber less than 2 years to deliver their innovation, test it, and release on the roads - 'mission impossible' for their rivals.

It all started when Uber secretly hired experts in robotics and set up a mysterious facility to build a self-driving fleet. Being a pioneer in driverless taxi services is critical for Uber to continue disrupting the market, and be ahead of Google, Lyft, and Apple who are also chasing this sector. Demonstrations of driverless journeys are currently attracting journalists, tech enthusiasts, and ordinary people eager to find out what it looks and feels like inside the driverless taxi.

Ford Fusions will be the cars to ferry customers, equipped with the technology that makes a driverless experience a reality. The visual sensors sit on top of the vehicle and includes a fast spinning laser scanner, where 64 laser beams scan through potential obstacles and dangers and measure the distance of objects around the car. Collecting and processing this data helps to build accurate 3D maps of the streets the vehicle is on. Sensors are also incorporated in tires and count how many times wheels have turned over to calculate how far the car has moved.

Today, driverless technology is one of the hottest topics in the world, and it's very impressive that it took Uber less than 2 years to deploy a full driverless taxi fleet. At the moment, it sounds more like an opening of a new roller-coaster, because customer acceptance of such technology is unclear - would people use it regularly or just every now and again to satisfy curiosity? In their official blog announcement, the Uber team said they can't predict exactly what the future will hold, but they believe their mission can improve society by reducing the number of fatal accidents, freeing road space in cities, and easing congestion.

However, despite a good cause, many also see the move as just another marketing campaign from Uber. The company announced it will select its 1000 'most loyal' customers to participate in driverless journeys in Pittsburgh. David Zuby, VP and Chief Research Officer at the Insurance Institute for Highway safety believes that testing in the urban environment could have happened without human passengers, suggesting that once again, Uber succeeded in attracting the right attention.

In their statements, Uber continues focusing on impressive features of the technology and countless benefits for customers, but in fact, no legislation for such transport type has been put in place and the company is still unwilling to talk about the future of their drivers, once vehicles pass the autonomous test. For now, the service will provide several modified Ford Fusions to ferry customers, and each will be manned by a pair of highly trained engineers to take control in an emergency situation. This leads to the question: Is it much different from a normal UberX journey? Because it seems that Uber statements may be ahead of what the service actually offers.

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