SITTING in the back seat of the self-driving Uber as it navigates narrow streets in Pittsburgh’s old industrial heart, the Strip District, is surreal. The global ride-sharing firm chose the area as the spot to develop and test driverless cars, and picked up its first customers on September 14th. Your correspondent got a ride the day before. The vehicle moves smoothly down busy Penn Avenue, stopping at four-way stop signs and traffic lights, slowing to allow other cars to parallel park. It navigates around double-parked delivery vans. It even stops to allow jaywalking pedestrians to cross.
The cars are not truly driverless yet. During the trial an Uber employee sits behind the wheel, ready to take over should something go wrong. A second employee, a sort of co-pilot, sits in the front passenger seat, monitoring a screen, alerting the pilot to what the car “sees”, including other cars, upcoming traffic, potential obstacles and elevation—Pittsburgh is very hilly. Another monitor in the back seat allows passengers to see what the car is seeing.
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