Next time you hail an Uber in Pittsburgh, you might end up riding in a machine-run vehicle! In August, NPR reported on Uber's plan to run an experiment in Pittsburgh, where it will test the first-ever self-driving fleet that's available to everyday customers.
For safety purposes, an Uber staff member (an engineer or specially trained driver) will be inside, acting as a human "co-pilot." So technically, it's not a car without a human.

In fact, for the time being, a human co-pilot is a necessity. Some experts put autonomous self-driving technology at 10 years away; others as many as 60. In a recent essay in Scientific American, Engineer Steve Shladover argues the industry has big hurdles to overcome to get self-driving cars to be as safe as human drivers.

Factors such as windy roads, inclement weather, changing road surfaces, crossing guards, emergency vehicles and pedestrians all throw a wrench into current self-driving technology. And of course, for insurance companies: how do you insure a computer? (Especially when fatal computer errors are possible.)

And of course, there's the whole "computers-replacing-people" factor. Currently, Uber has 1.5 million drivers worldwide -- 600,000 in the U.S. alone. What happens to all these drivers?  According to Uber, self-driving cars are a ways away; for now, a hybrid vehicle that is self-driving, but also needs a human, will be the likely next step. And, for tough routes (e.g., winding country roads), a self-driving car is not likely to win unless technology significantly improves.

What do you think? Would you trust the self-driving Uber?

For more on self-driving cars, check out: Some Thoughts on Self-Driving Cars and Self-Driving Cars: An Update.

Sources: NPR, Uber to Roll Out Self-Driving Cars in Pittsburgh | NPR, After Deadly Crash, Safety Officials Will Examine Tesla's Autopilot Mode | Scientific American, What "Self-Driving" Cars Will Really Look Like.

Photo Credit: Aaron Parecki.
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