The first test vehicle for Uber’s self-driving car programme has been spotted driving around the streets of Pittsburgh covered in cameras and sensors.
The modified Ford branded with “Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center”, was spotted on residential streets by the Pittsburgh Business Times. Uber announced in February that it would open a research centre in Pittsburgh to develop self-driving technology to replace drivers in its taxis.
“This vehicle is part of our early research efforts regarding mapping, safety and autonomy systems,” Uber said in a statement.
The modified car, much like the one from Apple that was spotted roaming San Francisco’s streets in February, had multiple cameras and a spinning lidar sensor on the roof indicating that the car’s purpose is to map the streets. Google’s Street View and self-driving cars use similar technology.
Accurate mapping at street level is one of the key cornerstones of autonomous vehicles, which rely on an accurate digital representation of the real world to guide themselves through streets and roads.
Uber’s autonomous car efforts are being driven by Carnegie Mellon University, which has an advanced robotics centre that has spawned various examples of self-driving technology, including a portion of Google’s efforts.
Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick has been bullish about his desire to automate the company’s cars and cut out the human element of the taxi service, which is its largest operating cost.
Taxi drivers the world over have been vocal in their protest at at the encroachment of Uber cars powered by human drivers into their market. The replacement of humans with robots would allow Uber to further undercut the competition and increase it’s profits.