"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.
You won't find a bigger fan of the technology than me. I love robots, autonomy and artificial intelligence. I can still remember visiting Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and standing a few feet away from the car that nearly won the DARPA Grand Challenge in 2004. But I'm also a realist -- and despite recent promises by Uber and Ford, I know that self-driving cars are decades away from becoming a significant part of our lives. You have to love Ford and its promise of a driverless car by 2021 -- a mere five years from now.
The Steelers won the Super Bowl, the Pirates won the World Series, and the city nearly went bankrupt. Given the passage of time, it is easy to forget how deeply depressed the city was. Unemployment was nearly at 20 percent. That same year, a seed was planted that would portend a great renaissance for the city. Carnegie Mellon University started its robotics program that same year.
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.