Bloomberg reports that this month “Uber will allow customers in downtown Pittsburgh to summon self-driving cars from their phones” (see here). And AP reports that the world’s first self-driving taxis are picking up passengers in Singapore (see here).
This might strike some as surprising news given that we have been led to believe that fully automated vehicles are years or decades away. Indeed, Bloomberg goes on to say that “Uber’s test cars travel with safety drivers” who will “sit with their fingertips on the wheel, ready to take control if the car encounters an unexpected obstacle.” A ‘co-pilot’ takes notes. Similarly, AP reports that the Singapore taxis “have a driver in front who is prepared to take back the wheel and a researcher in back who watches the car’s computers.”
Hence it appears that these self-driving taxi schemes are closer in nature to Google’s own testing fleet, which has been going on for several years already. It is just that with Uber a passenger gets to be part of the experience too! The schemes appear to be yet another small step on the way from automated driving (e.g., cruise control) to fully autonomous ‘driving’.
Daniel West, Associate