Uber's self-driving cars are on the road in Pittsburgh: how are they doing?

October 6, 2016

Back in August, the 800-pound ride-sharing gorilla known as Uber launched a fleet of self-driving vehicles in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Earlier this week, Quartz published an alleged expose about the pilot project, implying that it was off to a rocky start, but frankly, that doesn't seem to be the case.

Uber has acknowledged a fender-bender involving one of its four autonomous Ford Fusions (which will be joined by around 100 Volvo XC90 SUVs before the end of the year). However, as is often the case with autonomous cars, the accident was actually caused by the human driver of a different vehicle, which rear-ended the Fusion.

There has also been one citizen report of an autonomous Uber driving the wrong way down a one-way street, but it's not clear whether the human behind the wheel was in control of the vehicle at the time. Uber says that it has no reports of such an incident taking place. 

So, is Uber's autonomous vehicle pilot program in trouble? By any metric, the answer is no.

Admittedly, the program is small in scope. It's confined to a particular area of town, limited to certain driving conditions, and requires two front-seat passengers in each vehicle, one of whom can take control at a moment's notice. Given those restrictions, maybe it's not surprising that the program hasn't seen more accidents.

Then again, Google's self-driving cars have logged more than 2,000,000 miles, with only one minor accident blamed on Google's software. (A major accident involving one of the vehicles last month was the fault of another driver running a red light.) 

Whether Uber's autonomous technology--which it's developing on its own--can match those kinds of odds remains to be seen. And to be fair to Uber's critics, the company's rush to put a fleet of self-driving vehicles on the roads in Pittsburgh seemed like more of a PR stunt than a push to make roads safer. 

But no matter the company's intentions, the fact remains that self-driving vehicles will eventually lead to fewer accidents and fatalities. The decline won't happen tomorrow or next year--perhaps not for several decades--but there's not doubt that it will happen. Because as much as we hate to admit it, none of us can drive better than computers

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