Uber puts self-driv­ing car on road in Pitts­burgh

USA TODAY US Edition - - MONEY - Nathan Bomey @NathanBome­y USA TO­DAY

Uber’s par­tially self-driv­ing car will be­gin ac­cept­ing pas­sen­gers here Wed­nes­day, a crit­i­cal test for the ride-hail­ing ser­vice as it seeks to de­velop a fleet of au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles that could some­day ferry pas­sen­gers around crowded cities.

The com­pany on Tues­day gave jour­nal­ists test drives in about two dozen Ford Fu­sion sedans retro­fit­ted with light-map­ping sys­tems, radar, sen­sors and cam­eras. For now, an Uber em­ployee stays be­hind the steer­ing wheel to in­ter­cede if the self­driv­ing sys­tem makes a mis­take.

Spe­cially trained Uber em­ploy­ees will pick up pas­sen­gers who agree to the pos­si­bil­ity they could be ran­domly as­signed a self-driv­ing car when they re­quest an UberX ride through the app. Rides will be free for now.

In a USA TO­DAY test drive, the Fu­sion smoothly nav­i­gated many of the bustling ur­ban streets of Pitts­burgh, breez­ing over the Three Sis­ters bridges above the Al­legheny River and safely avoid­ing bi­cy­clists and walk­ers on vi­brant Penn Av­enue. On sev­eral oc­ca­sions, the car handed con­trol back to the driver when a sit­u­a­tion was too com­plex for the car’s al­go­rithms, such as when a con­struc­tion ve­hi­cle was parked back­ward in the right lane.

Pitts­burgh is home to Uber’s new Ad­vanced Tech­nolo­gies Cen­ter, but it’s also a good town to test self-driv­ing cars, with its com­bi­na­tion of bridges, pedes­tri­ans, bi­cy­clists, ur­ban driv­ing, rail­roads and bad weather.

“If we re­ally can mas­ter driv­ing in Pitts­burgh, then we feel strongly we have a good chance of mas­ter­ing it in most other cities around the world,” said Raffi Kriko­rian, leader of the Cen­ter.

NATHAN BOMEY, USA TO­DAY

Uber’s next self-driv­ing car: A Volvo XC90 in early 2017.

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