Technology

Uber's self-driving cars start this month

Uber will offer customers in Pittsburgh rides in self-driving vehicles starting this month, Bloomberg reported on Thursday.

Customers in the city's downtown will be randomly matched with one of the company's self-driving cars, a modified Volvo sport utility vehicle, when they hail a ride through Uber's mobile application. The rides will be free.

A tablet will feature information about the self-driving car in an attempt to acclimate riders to the unfamiliar experience.

Each car will have a driver who is able to take control of the car in the event of a difficulty or if the system is unable to navigate through a certain part of its route. A second person travels with the vehicle to take notes on the car's performance.

Uber's decision to roll out the fleet in the Pennsylvania city, where its autonomous car research has been based, is a significant choice. Other companies, including industry leader Google, have yet to expand their testing to consumers or bring a comparable product to market.

But the ride-hail company has aggressively moved into the autonomous car space in recent years. Bloomberg also reported in its Thursday story that Volvo and Uber had signed a deal to jointly develop a self-driving car by 2021 - an effort that will cost the companies $300 million.

Companies developing on self-driving vehicles have aggressively worked with policymakers to encourage laws that make it easier to deploy the vehicles and fight those regulations they see as burdensome. Google, for example, has pushed for giving the federal government more power over the space, which so far has been dominated by state regulators.

And those regulators have sometimes proposed rules that could limit the deployment of fully-autonomous vehicles.

Last year, California's Department of Motor Vehicles produced draft regulations that would require a licensed human driver behind the wheel of every autonomous vehicle. That's worrisome for the companies, who fear a patchwork of state regulations that make it hard to build a nationwide market for autonomous vehicles.

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