Mysterious Uber cars are zipping around Pittsburgh, and witnesses aren’t quite sure what to make of them.
Uber is currently testing out several vehicles in the city, which are easy enough to pick out by the large gray contraption on top and the words “Uber Advanced Technologies Center” on the sides,
according to the Pittsburgh Business Times.
The Pittsburgh Business Times originally published a purported image of one of Uber’s self-driving vehicles. But Uber claims otherwise. “This is not a self-driving car,” an Uber spokesperson told Mashable. “This vehicle is part of our early research efforts regarding mapping, safety and autonomy systems.” Of course, given that most driverless car tests require a human as backup in most states at this stage, an autonomous vehicle would not necessarily be described as self-driving in any case.
In February, the company announced it would open a research facility dedicated to those areas in Pittsburgh.
Uber has been extremely aggressive about expansion since CEO Travis Kalanick founded the company in 2009 with serial entrepreneur Garrett Camp, generating controversy along the way in some of the 300-plus cities it operates around the world over regulatory issues. Some drivers have allegedly sexually harassed or assaulted passengers; others are allegedly flouting disability laws.
A partnership with UN Women fell through in March over concerns that Uber was not doing enough to protect female passengers. Uber, for its part, has pledged to beef up its driver screening process.
The company is reportedly raising a new round of financing at a $50 billion valuation — up from $40 billion previously — making it a so-called startup “unicorn,” and one of the highest-valued private tech companies ever.
In developing self-driving Uber cars, the company is aiming to be less reliant on human drivers, who pocket a major chunk of each fare. That would be an ironic turn of events, given that the company has long billed itself as a way for ex-cabbies and citizen drivers to make a living.
But taking human drivers out of the equation — or at least cutting back on them — makes sense from a cost perspective and could expedite Uber’s path to profitability. So don’t be surprised, Pittsburgh residents, if you see truly self-driving Uber cars in the near future.
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