Uber has just announced its public testing plans for the first-ever self-driving taxi with real passengers inside. The first passengers can try it out already by the end of this month.
The company chose Pittsburgh as the test-drive city where people will have a chance to take a self-driving cab in the same way they would order a normal Uber taxi: via their smartphone. The drives on the self-driving cabs were promised to be free for all customers, as part of the company's public testing project.
Uber is the first company to make a statement about bringing a self-driving car to the market already now, challenging Google as a pioneer in the industry. In the past years, Google (NASDAQ: Alphabet Class C [GOOG]) and Tesla (NASDAQ: Tesla Motors [TSLA]) have been continuously testing their self-driving car models that didn't always run smoothly: Tesla had several car accidents with the latest one happening in France were a car was caught on fire. With years and years of testing, both giants have been postponing the grand announcements of the self-driving cars being ready to enter the market.
Earlier this week, Ford's statement to put its self-driving cars on the road by 2021 was regarded to be ambitious by many experts. Yet Uber is shooting for something similar much earlier, starting already in less than two weeks. Is Uber's technology really ready to go and is way ahead of the rivals?
Well, let's see what Uber's self-driving cars are about. Even though they are announced as self-driving, the passengers will not be alone in the car. A professional engineer will be sitting on the driver's seat controlling the wheel together with a co-pilot taking notes about the driving process. So here comes the question: if there is already years and years of recorded self-driving data available, what does the presence of a passenger on the backseat add to the testing?
In the past 24 hours, almost everyone shared news about Uber's launch of the self-driving taxis, giving the company a great deal of publicity. No doubt, these are exciting news but some analysts see it as nothing but a publicity stunt, meant to attract the world's attention to what Uber is doing and create the "we got here first" effect as well as additional funds for Uber's project.
Previously, Uber had plans to develop its own self-driving car, similar to Google, but probably these plans are being postponed now as the self-driving taxis that we will see by the end of this month, are Volvo XC90 cars, equipped with a full spectrum of self-driving gadgets.
Not so long ago, Uber has announced its partnership with Volvo to work together on the self-driving cars technology. Yet just yesterday, the company shared the news on acquisition of a young tech startup Otto that is working on a driverless truck technology and employs engineers from Apple, Google and Tesla. It seems that Uber is pretty serious about the plans to develop the company in this direction.
Indeed, Uber is the first to offer "bookable" self-driving cars on demand thanks to its app, but the presence of the other two people controlling the ride takes a big part of its self-driving charm away. Bloomberg mentioned Uber's recent test-drive in Pittsburgh when the car required assistance of a safety driver several times while driving over the bridges, as the cars are not yet prepared for the difficult parts of the road.
Thumbs up to Uber for inviting real passengers to take a ride on their self-driving cabs, but maybe we all should save our excitement until the cars are really driver-free. Who knows if Uber will be the first one to get there.