Uber's first driverless car which it is testing on the streets of Pittsburgh. Source: Uber.
Billy Wood

Uber tests first driverless car as it goes toe-to-toe with Google and Tesla

Global taxi firm Uber has signalled its entrance into the hotly contested driverless car space, with confirmation that it is testing its first autonomous vehicle.

In a statement, the US technology company announced that it is currently testing its first prototype on the streets of Pittsburgh.

The car, a hybrid Ford Fusion fitted with radars, laser scanners and high resolution cameras, has been developed at Uber’s Advanced Technology Center (ATC), and is daubed in the firm’s now ubiquitous logo.

In the statement, Uber explained that they are ‘still in the early days’ of their self-driving efforts and that their focus is on ensuring the technology is ‘safe for everyone on the road’ including drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.

The project is being carried out in conjunction with Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University, and the car-hailing firm also hailed the support it has received from political and regional leaders - presumably attracted by the publicity that the high-profile project would bring to the city.

Commenting on Uber’s trials, William Peduto, Mayor of Pittsburgh, said: “From the first steel mills to the laboratories at Pitt and Carnegie Mellon, Pittsburgh has a long history of innovation.

“Now we’re taking another step forward, this time as home to Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center, where some of the world’s leading innovators are helping to shape the future of transportation.

“We’re excited that Uber has chosen the Steel City as they explore new technologies that can improve people’s lives — through increased road safety, less congestion, and more efficient and smarter cities.”

Autonomous vehicles in the UK

While we are still a long way from hailing a driverless Uber taxi from our smartphones, a whole raft of global companies, including Google and Tesla, are currently ploughing untold millions into making the tech viable for our streets.

Meanwhile, in an effort to position the UK at the forefront of the autonomous vehicle revolution, the government has already begun to make legislative moves to pave the way for truly driverless cars on our country’s roads.

Wednesday’s Queen’s Speech saw the introduction of new legislation, due to come into force in 2020, which will make it easy to insure driverless vehicles, opening up all of Britain’s road network to the technology.

While testing is already planned for 2017 to trial how the vehicles might work on our roads, particularly how to manage the challenge of a transport mix that includes both traditional, human-controlled cars and their autonomous cousins.

Following the announcement of the new legislation, Chancellor George Osborne commented that the new tech could represent ‘the most fundamental change to transport since the invention of the internal combustion engine’.

He added: “Naturally we need to ensure safety, and that’s what the trials we are introducing will test. If successful, we could see driverless cars available for sale and on Britain’s roads, boosting UK jobs and productivity.”

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