In September 2016, Uber launched their first driverless cars in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Earlier this week, Uber trialled the Volvo XC90s as an autonomous car in San Francisco, California.
On 14th December2016, customers who requested an UberX in San Francisco could ‘match’ with a Self-Driving Uber, if available. This comes after the success of the trial in Pittsburgh over the past several months, despite the city’s varied weather conditions and challenging roads. San Francisco brings its own challenges to driverless vehicles, including high traffic density, large volumes of cyclists on the roads and narrow lanes across an undulating topography.
Uber claims self-driving cars are ‘core to [their] mission of reliable transportation, everywhere for everyone’. Offering a reliable and affordable method of transport allows cities to become safer, cleaner, more efficient, and more affordable. Uber’s service complements public transport, and allows people to connect to places that aren’t currently well connected by other forms of transport. Encouraging more people into fewer cars also means that congestion and pollution are reduced in our cities over time.
Just hours after launching the driverless technology in California, state regulators ordered Uber to stop testing the self-driving cars until securing the necessary permit which allows companies to test autonomous vehicles on public roads. Uber claim that a permit is not necessary due to the success of their Pittsburgh roll out, and because all autonomous vehicles will still have drivers in them whilst the trial is in its infancy. However, a video has already been uploaded onto Youtube which shows one of Uber’s vehicles failing to stop for a red light. Uber defends this, commenting that the car was operated by a person at the time of the recording.
So, with the trial currently on hold, this gives us an opportunity to debate the topic of Driverless Technology.
Questions are being asked about the effect that this technology will have on travel behaviour. Some believe that it will increase car ownership, as it will make the technology more accessible for all. This may lead to urban sprawl and further reliance on private car use. Others comment that it will become easier to car share, and this will discourage outright ownership of private vehicles, meaning less cars on the road and parking demand might fall.
Uber aren’t alone in this venture. With 10 years spent developing the technology, Google will put its self-driving car equipment into a new company ‘Waymo’ with ambitions to commercialise the technology for future users.
Despite much scepticism, driverless technology is advancing rapidly and may unlock future benefits for people and the cities in which they live. So, what are your thoughts? Are we driving into the future, or stalling at the start line?