PITTSBURGH — Uber are bringing in a fleet of self-driving cars in Pittsburgh, making this former steel town the world’s first city to let passengers hail autonomous vehicles.
There have been no public service announcements or demonstrations of the technology. Except for the mayor and one police official, no other top city leader has seen a self-driving Uber vehicle operate up close. Fire and emergency services don’t know where the Uber cars will travel.
Pittsburgh has ignited criticism that the city is giving away its keys to Uber, which is testing a nascent technology and has a reputation for running roughshod over regulators and municipalities and It is precisely this hands-off approach that has made Pittsburgh ideal grounds for one of Silicon Valley’s boldest experiments.
Uber plans to use about 100 modified Volvo sport utilityvehicles for the passenger trials. The vehicles will also have a human monitor behind the wheel. “You can either put up red tape or roll out the red carpet. If you want to be a 21st-century laboratory for technology, you put out the carpet.” Says Pittsburg’s Mayor, Bill Peduto. They have helped Uber lease a large plot near the city’s riverfront for a testing track
Pittsburgh is seeking to shed their Rust Belt pasts and transform themselves into a technology hub— essentially, give the tech companies lots of free rein. The approach, described as greenlight governing, has brought tech entrepreneurs to Pittsburgh and attracted hundreds of scientists and engineers to new research centers opened in the city in the last decade by Apple, Google, Intel and Uber.
How Pittsburgh handles the unveiling of Uber’s self-driving fleet is being closely watched by other tech and auto companies that are doing their own driverless experiments in places like California and Michigan.
Depressed cities around the nation are watching to see if the Pittsburgh story can be a blueprint for their own transitions into tech hubs.
About the possibility of deaths and accidents, the Mayor said “There is no technology that is fail-proof and there is no tech that can guarantee there won’t be accidents, but right now there are 3,287 people who die in automobile-related accidents around the world each day, and there has to be a better way,
Uber came to Pittsburgh in early 2015, drawn by the engineering talent at Carnegie Mellon. The university started a robotics department 30 years ago, when driverless cars seemed like a fantasy, but robotics has since proved crucial for the systems that let vehicles navigate streets on their own.
The university’s expertise in computer science had attracted not only Uber but also General Motors, Google and Intel, some of which embedded at Carnegie Mellon. Google and Uber later opened research centers, hiring dozens of Carnegie Mellon professors and graduate students.
Today, Uber has 500 employees at a center in Pittsburgh’s industrial Strip District working on autonomous vehicles, and plans to have 1,000 employees at the site, known as the Advanced Technology Center, within a few years, increasing investments to $1 billion from hundreds of millions of dollars in a decade, he said.
“There’s really not been a whole lot of collaboration on the actual testing,” said Scott Schubert, Pittsburgh’s assistant chief of police, who rode in one of the Uber vehicles last June and signed a nondisclosure agreement to do so.
After a two-mile ride home, Mr. Peduto posted on Twitter that he ended that day as the world’s first mayor chauffeured by an autonomous Uber car.
“I feel fortunate that I have the ear of a C.E.O. of one of the biggest privately held companies,” he said.
(Maybe good for Adelaide?)