This Is Uber’s First Self-Driving Car

Autonomous Ford Fusions are now roaming the streets of Pittsburgh.

byWill Sabel Courtney|
This Is Uber’s First Self-Driving Car

Uber has made no secret of its interest in self-driving cars. From the company's perspective, what's not to love? Those squishy organics behind the wheel are the company's biggest expense and biggest hassle. Ditching them for a fleet of autonomous cars could enable the company to save big bucks in the long run—even if, say, it had to shell out $10 billion to Mercedes-Benz to get the ball rolling.

But while retiring Homo sapiens is still a ways off, Uber announced this week that it's one step closer to limiting those pesky humans to the back seats. The company's self-driving car research program has created its first real-world prototypes—and it's turned them loose on the streets of Pittsburgh.

The cars, a fleet of hybrid Ford Fusions, has been whipped up by Uber's Advanced Technologies Center, located in the Steel City. Each Ford is outfitted with a battery of sensors that would make a Zumwalt Class destroyer jealous; like many nascent self-driving vehicles, it uses laser scanners, radar arrays, and high-resolution cameras to navigate. A human driver does remain behind the wheel at all times, ready to seize control if the car encounters a situation it can't control—for example, if a helmet-less Ben Roethlisberger swerves into its lane.

Residents of Da Burgh shouldn't start looking for a "Uber Bot" option on their apps, though. The cars aren't picking up fares; instead, they're being used to collect mapping data while the engineers perfect the autonomous capabilities.

While Uber announced the self-driving Fords' existence in a May 19 blog post, the company has actually been testing the cars around Pittsburgh for several weeks, according to the Pittsburgh-area Tribune-Review. Uber ATC head John Bares told the newspaper that the city's combination of tight streets, steep hills, sagging infrastructure, and mercurial weather made it an ideal trial-by-fire for autonomous cars.

“We have the world's best test site right at our doorstep,” Bares said. “We view it as, it's not quite Everest, but it's a hard mountain...but the beautiful thing is we do have that mountain right out of our front door to climb.”