Uber Testing Self-Driving Cars on Challenging Pittsburgh Streets

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2016-09-14 Print this article Print
Uber Car Tests

Even though self-driving cars are intended to be far safer than those driven by mere mortals, there will be accidents. Some of those accidents may result in injuries to the riders of those self-driving cars or anyone in the vehicles they might crash into. It’s possible that someone may be killed in such an accident, much like what happened with the recent fatal accident of a Tesla car operating in its autonomous mode.

A great deal about the future of autonomous vehicles will depend on how those accidents happen and how Uber and other operators handle the aftermath. If the accidents are the result of stupid moves carried out by someone else and the self-driving car does what it can to avoid the accident or minimize the damage, then there should be little problem.

But if accidents happen because the self-driving car runs amok and injures people who happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong instant, you can expect the hue and cry to set back elf-driving vehicle development for a while. Still, Uber is willing to take the risk that this might happen.

“Real-world testing is critical to our efforts to develop self-driving technology,” Uber said in its background information. “Self-driving cars have the potential to save millions of lives and improve the quality of life for people around the world.”

As important as Uber’s next step is, it would be wrong to assume that this is the opening shot from a self-driving future. The Uber tests are just that–tests. If everything goes well, and if the autonomous cars turn out to be able to handle everything from crazed rush-hour drivers to freak snowfalls, which can wreak havoc in Pittsburgh, which sits at the bottom of a deep valley nearly surrounded by steep hills, then it will be a huge shot in the arm for Uber and for autonomous cars.

But there are so many random factors in driving that you have to assume that not everything will go well. What really matters is what happens when things go wrong? When there’s a sudden snowfall? Will the Uber car be stranded? The answer to that will have a big impact on how Uber’s effort turns out and how fast the self-driving cars gain acceptance across the country.

What also matters is how fast other forms of transportation evolve. For example, self-driving trucks may be farther along in their development than cars and we may be about to see those self-driving trucks on the roads.

At this point there’s little question that self-driving cars are about to arrive, but we don’t know exactly how long it will take before we get there. But I don’t think it’s very far off before we start seeing autonomous cars in everyday use.


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