Uber might be losing ground in the ride-sharing market, but the company has its sights set on another goal: unleashing fleets of fully self-driving cars on American roads. What could go wrong? Given some of the big names in technology working with Uber to develop these fleets, likely not much. Autonomous Uber vehicles have already logged hundreds of millions of miles on public roads with very few incidents. In all of those tests, however, Uber’s self-driving cars have had a human backup driver in the car – just in case. Now, however, the company has announced that it’s quite close to debuting self-driving vehicles which can operate safely without the need for a human backup driver. How will the public feel about trusting a fully independent robotic car?
Speaking at this year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Uber’s Advanced Technology Group leader Eric Meyhofer said that while the company can’t yet give a precise date, driverless autonomous Uber vehicles could hit American roads as soon as next year. Uber is delaying the release until they feel the technology is completely safe. “Once we can check that box, which we call passing the robot driver’s license test, that’s when we can remove the vehicle operator,” Meyhofer says. Uber vehicles already travel around 80,000 miles each week in two test locations, Phoenix and Pittsburgh, without major incident.
Still, Uber’s autonomous systems have their limits. The cars don’t work well on snow-covered roads, meaning some snow-prone areas will have to wait longer for the technology to improve. One of the biggest hurdles Uber and other self-driving car fleets will face is the human element – getting human drivers to feel safe and comfortable in a car without a human operator. According to a recent AA study, however, Americans are warming up to the idea of fully autonomous vehicles. Would you put your life in the cold, metal hands of a robot?