Uber-users in Pittsburgh now have the opportunity to ride in an autonomous vehicle. It's the first time self-driving cars have been made so freely available to the U.S. public and Uber is confident it won't be the last. Jillian Kitchener reports.
There's a new kind of car on the streets of Pittsburgh. Uber has taken a huge step into the future, unveiling a small fleet of autonomous, self-driving vehicles for the exclusive use of its most loyal customers. The company wants to put autonomous driving to the test...in a city already known for its driving challenges. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DIRECTOR OF UBER'S ADVANCED TECHNOLOGIES CENTER, RAFFI KRIKORIAN, SAYING: "Pittsburgh is an old city, it has an organic road network, it has real traffic problems, it experiences extreme weather so we really feel that Pittsburgh is the double black diamond of driving." The challenges are many and various. Critics say self-driving cars are not safe enough yet....that potholes, tunnels and bridges -- of which Pittsburgh has many -- can throw off the navigation. But Aaron Steinfeld from the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon says the time has come to truly test the technology. (SOUNDBITE) (English) ASSOCIATE RESEARCH PROFESSOR AT THE ROBOTICS INSTITUTE AT CARNEGIE MELLON, AARON STEINFELD, SAYING: "And this is an opportunity to, when you test in real world, to really gather an understanding about the performance of these systems in the real world and to see where you need to make improvements." Some Pittsburgh residents say they'll steer clear of these cars for now. (SOUNDBITE) (English) STUDENT AND PITTSBURGH RESIDENT, GABY KOGUT, SAYING: "I think it's a really really cool innovation especially at this time, but for me personally I wouldn't feel comfortable being in a self-driving car just because I'm one of those people that won't really be able to trust..." Uber says passengers won't be entirely alone. An engineer will be sitting in the front seat to intervene if need be. But a major goal, they say, is to take human error OUT of the driving equation. And in the real world...Uber says there'll be no better test track than Pittsburgh. Uber-users in Pittsburgh now have the opportunity to ride in an autonomous vehicle with at least one engineer -- the first time self-driving cars have been so freely available to the U.S. public.