Uber has announced that its first fleet of self-driving cars will commence trial operations in Pittsburgh. As early as later this month, Pittsburgh residents may find that some of their Uber requests are answered by self-driving cars, a major technological milestone that other companies with similar ambitions, such as Apple, Ford, Tesla, and Google, have yet to reach. Pittsburgh is home to Carnegie Mellon University, whose robotics department is arguably the birthplace of Uber’s semi-autonomous cars.
The Verge reports that each semi-autonomous vehicle will also have a human supervisor in the driver’s seat, as legally required, and a co-pilot taking notes. Uber users in Pittsburgh who happen to be paired with a self-driving vehicle will have their fee waived.
The self-driving cars used in the trial will all be modified Volvo XC90 SUVs outfitted with dozens of radar, GPS, lasers, and cameras. According to the Bloomberg report, Uber’s strategy has focused on improving its mapping and self-driving software using the hoard of data collected from its app. Uber eventually plans to strike additional partnerships with other carmakers and develop kits to retrofit their models.
On the other hand, rumors abound as to Apple’s intentions in the self-driving car and ride-hailing industries. What we do know is that Apple engineers are busily working on electric vehicles at a secret facility known only as “SG5,” which is registered to a shell company called “SixtyEight Research,” and that Apple has an internal target ship date of 2021 for its electric cars.
It’s not even known whether the first fleet of Apple Cars will be self-driving, though it’s fair to imagine they eventually will be. For instance, much has been made of Apple’s $1 billion investment in Didi Chuxing, Uber’s Chinese rival which eventually ousted the San Francisco-based company from China. Some have speculated that Apple seeks to gain a foothold in China for its autonomous car fleet in the future.