Any day now, Uber will introduce a fleet of self-driving cars in Pittsburgh, making this former steel town the world's first city to let passengers hail autonomous vehicles. So with the world watching, what has the city of 306,000 done to prepare for Uber's unprecedented test? The answer is not much. There have been no public service announcements or demonstrations of the technology. Except for the mayor and one police official, no other top city leader has seen a self-driving Uber vehicle operate up close.
Cars capable of driving themselves may be on the showroom floor sooner than you think, but whether they should come with all the current essentials -- including a steering wheel and pedals on the floor -- has the auto industry at a fork in the road. Ford sided with the pioneering engineers at Google last week in announcing plans to introduce limited-use vehicles without traditional controls within five years. Some other major automakers -- and virtually all of them are well along in their work on self-driving vehicles -- say they will introduce automated elements one step at a time, until drivers accept that they no longer need to control their cars. The different approaches are rooted in conflicting views of safety and what the public is willing to accept. "It's almost like asking people before they even really knew what an iPhone was, how the iPhone might change their lives," said Johanna Zmud, senior research scientist at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.
Perfecting the technology is essential to Uber, as autonomous vehicles could pare significant costs by replacing some 2.5 million human drivers and give it an edge in the technological race to upend personal and even commercial transportation. Uber is among auto makers and tech giants pursuing fully driverless cars on the belief they will ultimately save lives and costs. It isn't yet clear whether Uber is at fault, but the accident puts Mr. Khosrowshahi in a difficult position. Like his predecessor, Travis Kalanick, he has publicly touted Uber's driverless-car program, saying it could one day eliminate the need for people to own cars. He has even trumpeted flying taxis as a viable business in as soon as five years to shuttle people around cities.
"This was an opportunity missed," said Michael Lamb, Pittsburgh's city controller, who has called on Uber to share the traffic data gathered by its autonomous vehicles. The deteriorating relationship between Pittsburgh and Uber offers a cautionary tale, especially as other cities consider rolling out driverless car trials from Uber, Alphabet's Waymo and others. Towns like Tempe, Ariz., have already emulated Pittsburgh and set themselves up as test areas for self-driving vehicles. Many municipalities see the experiments as an opportunity to remake their urban transportation systems and create a new tech economy. Yet Pittsburgh shows the clash of private-versus-public interests that can result.
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Plaza here is a strip mall with a pet-accessories store, a Thai restaurant and a yogurt shop, an unlikely venue to display the high-tech future. But one Saturday morning in March, Google did just that. A small convoy of its driverless cars cruised into the fading asphalt parking lot to give test drives – test rides, actually – to American mayors visiting Austin's annual South by Southwest tech-and-culture festival. Mayor Richard J. Berry of Albuquerque, New Mexico, was impressed with how the cars dodged pedestrians and fallen tree limbs. Sam Liccardo, mayor of San Jose, California, right in Google's backyard, was impressed that he got to see the cars at all. "These things are crawling all over my city" in tests, "but I had to come to Austin to ride in one," said Liccardo. "This is going to change cities."