Uber's self-driving cars hit the road

Uber's self-driving cars hit the road
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Uber on Wednesday started picking up passengers in self-driving cars, launching the most ambitious and public test to date of autonomous car technology.

Now, when customers in Pittsburgh, Pa., hail an UberX, some will be matched with one of the company’s self-driving vehicles. The rest will ride in human-driven cars, as usual.

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An Uber employee will remain behind the wheel of the car to take control if the vehicle falters or can’t handle a portion of a ride.

“This pilot is a big step forward,” said CEO Travis Kalanick and executive Anthony Levandowski in a blog post. “Real-world testing is critical to the success of this technology.”

They also sought to reassure drivers, who stand to be replaced by self-driving cars in the future.

“It’s still very early: Self-Driving Ubers have a safety driver in the front seat because they require human intervention in many conditions, including bad weather. Even when these technology issues get fixed, we believe ridesharing will be a mix — with services provided by both drivers and Self-Driving Ubers.”

Uber’s Pittsburgh test is a major development in the self-driving car market: The company is the first to put passengers in its test vehicles. Google, which has been a leader in the space, is still only testing its vehicles with employees on board.

Companies working on autonomous vehicle technology worry about the impact of regulations on their ability to test and deploy their products. Pittsburgh has said it doesn’t feel the need to regulate the self-driving cars heavily, making it easier for Uber to run its pilot program.

Nationally, self-driving car developers have looked to the federal government for guidance that could help prevent a patchwork of state laws.