Today was the big day for both Uber and Pittsburgh. It was the day the ride sharing company introduced some self-driving vehicles to its fleet.
While we have yet to receive any consumer feedback on the experience, several reporters got the chance Tuesday to take some test rides, and they have reported their findings.
Andrew Hawkins, a writer for The Verge, took an Uber self-driving car for a spin and said its sensors were tested early, when an SUV in front of him stopped suddenly.
“Time slowed down,” Hawkins writes. “My brain issued the signal to brake, but before my foot could respond, the car braked on its own. It was abrupt but gentle, the kind of stop that would have caused my wife to raise a disapproving eyebrow, but only slightly.”
Clueless about hand signals
But then, he said the driver of the car stuck out his arm and motioned for him to pull around. Hawkins says the car has plenty of optics and sensors, but no way to interpret the motion of a human arm waving him around. He said he had to take control of the vehicle and manually pull around. Other than that, he says the ride was uneventful.
Uber said it has placed four self-driving vehicles in the Pittsburgh fleet. Whether it's the car that picks you up will be the luck of the draw. If one is available and closest to you, it's the one you'll get.
The driverless car won't be empty when it picks you up, however. Uber said the front seat will be occupied by Uber personnel to make sure everything goes smoothly.
“This is a brilliant and innovative step for Uber, taking consumers one step closer to an autonomous automotive world,” said Kelley Blue Book analyst Michael Harley, in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “While the vehicles are technically autonomous, including a redundant driver and engineer adds peace of mind and a necessary cushion of safety for passengers, pedestrians, and legal teams still skittish with the emerging technology.”
Brian Moody, executive editor at AutoTrader, was equally impressed, especially since he said a driverless car holds the promise of “no chit-chat” with the driver or an awkward calculation of how much to tip.
Uber said it's not going to attempt to predict the future, but believes self-driving cars hold enormous potential to make highways safer and cities less congested. As for Uber drivers who might be displaced, the company said the technology will create new work opportunities while disrupting current ones.