I’ve never been to Pittsburgh, but it’s one city that’s always intrigued me. Not because I grew up a Steelers’ fan. And not because the Indians are a farm team for the Pirates … come to think of it, I’m not really sure why the Pennsylvania city is on my list, maybe because it’s fun to say? Whatever my initial reason for wanting to visit has been replaced with a new one; thanks to the Jetson-like setting the city’s about to embrace. Yes, yes. It’s all true. What you’ve read, what you’ve heard … there really are cars that drive themselves. And today, the first of Uber’s self-driving vehicles will hit the road in one of the nation’s oldest and most beloved cities, Pittsburgh. And rightly so, reactions – at least amongst human drivers – are mixed. But before you throw in the Terrible Towel, or any towel, on your verdict as to whether or not these cars are a viable transportation option, at least consider these three things … and if you don’t live in Pitt, be on the lookout in case one of these machines goes rogue, on the road and ends up in your city.
The cars Uber’s chosen automobile for its self-driving Pittsburgh fleet is far from shoddy. The company wisely chose the Volvo XC90 SUV, one of the highest rated cars across the board according to Car and Driver, Motor Trend and Consumer Reports. And though the self-driving Uber version might look like the $50-75,000 consumer model it won’t exactly drive, or perform like one. With multiple sensors linked to cameras, lasers and GPS receivers the luxury sport-utility vehicles about to take over Pittsburgh, will have every bit of safety precautions built in to the “autopilot” system and should be able to parallel park better than any human driver. Of course, whether or not the self-driving car can find a parking spot is yet to be determined.
Your safety Fear not, Pittsburgh’s self-driving Uber cars won’t really be on the loose. Not yet. The cars, though fully operational and capable of taking you to and from work let alone picking junior up from band practice, will have a real, live human in the driver’s seat. No word on when the “supervision” (part of a legal requirement on Uber’s end) will end, but for now if you’re lucky enough to be picked up by one of these self-driving cars, at the very least be sure you have your cellphone charged and ask the “driver” to snap a picture of you with your ride … I mean why not? This pic just might be one for the record books – or at the very least, one your grand kids will think is cool.
The cost Should you get picked up by one of Uber’s self-driving cars during this first, shall we say, “test” period in Pittsburgh, the cost of your ride is on the company. But unfortunately, there’s no way of knowing whether or not your Uber ride will be human operated or mostly autonomous, as customers booking a ride via the app will be randomly assigned one of the newfangled, albeit luxurious, rides. Cool thing is, if you are one of the “chosen ones” … just like an original Uber ride, you’ll be free to sit back and relax while someone else er, um, or something else, does the driving.