Traffic congestion costs the U.S. economy 121 billion a year, mostly due to lost productivity, and produces about 25 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions, Carnegie Mellon University professor of robotics Stephen Smith told the audience at a White House Frontiers Conference last week. In urban areas, drivers spend 40 percent of their time idling in traffic, he added. The next step is to have traffic signals talk to cars. Pittsburgh is the test bed for Uber's self-driving cars, and Smith's work on AI-enhanced traffic signals that talk with self-driving cars is paving the way for the ultimately fluid and efficient autonomous intersections.
Uber riders in Pittsburgh can get a glimpse of the future by summoning a car capable of handling most of the tasks of driving on its own. Starting Wednesday morning, a fleet of self-driving Ford Fusions will pick up Uber riders who opted to participate in a test program. While the vehicles are loaded with features that allow them to navigate on their own, an Uber engineer will sit in the driver's seat and seize control if things go awry. A group of self driving Uber vehicles position themselves to take journalists on rides during a media preview at Uber's Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh, Monday, Sept. 12, 2016 (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) Uber's test program is the latest move in an increasingly heated race between tech companies in Silicon Valley and traditional automakers to perfect fully driverless cars for regular people. Competitors such as Volvo and Google have invested hundreds of millions of dollars and logged millions of miles test driving autonomous vehicles, but Uber is the first company in the U.S. to make self-driving cars available to the general public.
An illustration picture shows the logo of car-sharing service app Uber on a smartphone next to the picture of a taxi sign. Ride-sharing service Uber announced plans to start deploying self-driving cars in Pittsburgh later this month, marking the first time the evolving and pricey technology has reached the general public. As part of a 300 million deal with Volvo, Uber said it will produce a fleet of 100 self-driving XC90 vehicles for the test program by the end of the year, Bloomberg reported. Each of the vehicles in Uber's fleet will be equipped with a driverless control system, including cameras, GPS tracking, sensors and lasers to help navigate the road. The service will also be free to anyone willing to give it a try.
With Google, the self-driving car leader, slowly making progress with its autonomous cars, you'd be forgiven for thinking Uber's efforts are far behind and barely visible in its frenemy's rearview mirror. Precious little was known of Uber's plans for self-driving cars, but the company told Bloomberg that it will outfit cars with autonomous driving kits rather than develop its own vehicles as Google is doing. Levandowski led Google's self-driving car efforts, Ron was an executive on Google Maps and Motorola, while other staff have spent time with Apple, Tesla and other notable automotive firms. "We were really excited about building something that could be launched early," Levandowski told Bloomberg of why he left Google.