Have you seen any Uber cars around Phoenix that look a little funny? If it has an extra piece on top that spins furiously as the car moves, it’s one of ride-sharing company Uber’s self-driving cars. The cars were previously on the road in Pittsburgh and San Francisco, and now they’re getting ready to pick up Arizonans. The cars aren’t taking any riders just yet, but they’re driving around to collect data and build digital maps for the autonomous-driving setting. When they were introduced in San Francisco, the Uber self-driving cars were assigned to requests randomly, meaning any person calling an UberX, the company’s lowest-cost option in most cities, could be part of the experiment. If a passenger didn’t feel quite ready for the self-driving experience, he or she could opt for the normal experience. (For those a little nervous at the thought alone, each car is still operated by two human beings, who sit at the front of the vehicle.)
Are Uber self-driving cars safe?
When the cars are on the road, one Uber employee sits in the driver’s seat and controls the car when it’s not in autonomous mode, and an engineer sits in the passenger’s seat to observe the car’s performance. Each of the self-driving Volvo XC90’s has a leather interior. And that spinning thing on the roof? It’s called a LIDAR sensor, which, along with a camera, helps the car “see” where it is on the road and what’s around it. These sensors and cameras let it know when it’s time to brake, when the traffic lights change color, and when the coast is clear to change lanes. A cooling system runs underneath the car to make sure it doesn’t overheat with all of the extra gadgets. As advanced as the technology is, it has not been foolproof so far. The cars have been criticized for making some errors, including running a red light in San Francisco and going the wrong way down a one-way street in Pittsburgh. Uber attributed the first error to human error and said there was no formal report for the second, so Uber didn’t comment.
The company has also been criticized for potentially putting jobs at risk. Uber drivers have said they fear that Uber self-driving cars will eliminate the need for their work and will have broader implications for anyone who operates vehicles as a livelihood. Uber’s relationship with one city has been a bit rocky—the cars in Arizona were originally supposed to operate in San Francisco, but the company was prohibited from testing them in California after the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles said the Uber self-driving cars were not properly marked as test cars, giving the department reason to revoke the cars’ registrations. Uber moved at least nine of the fleet of 16 self-driving Volvos by truck from San Francisco to Phoenix on December 23rd.
Keep an eye out!
Arizona has proven itself to be a much more welcoming place for the self-driving cars by simply regulating them the same way they regulate normal cars, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation. “Part of what makes Arizona an ideal place for Uber and other companies to test autonomous vehicle technology is that there are no special permits or licensing required,” the Department said in a December 22nd statement. ”
In Arizona, autonomous vehicles have the same registration requirements as any other vehicle, and nothing in state law prevents testing autonomous vehicles.” A task force made up of state government officials and Uber representatives is responsible for monitoring the cars’ activity in Arizona, and all of the cars obtain permits and licenses through the state. Arizona made strides to be welcoming to self-driving vehicles before Uber ran into trouble with California.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed an executive order in 2015 “supporting the testing and operation of self-driving vehicles in Arizona,” according to the statement. Ducey said in a news conference on the day the cars arrived that he hopes the development of the self-driving technology will lead to less traffic, more convenience, and fewer deaths on the road caused by human error. “We lose tens of thousands of Americans every year in avoidable accidents caused by human error,” Ducey said at the news conference. “It’s Uber’s vision that we will avoid these accidents.”