Self-Driving Uber: How I Learned Not To Worry and Trust the Tech

Parked outside a warehouse by the Allegheny River was Uber's vision of the future: 14 Ford Fusions, each mounted with conspicuous cameras, antennae and sensors. A lumpy lidar unit, which uses light to map its surroundings, spun atop each car's roof like a high-tech propeller hat.

Stylish? Not quite. But I was about to get into a car that drives itself. Style was the least of my worries.

This fleet of geekmobiles, clearly marked with Uber's logo, [were deployed] Wednesday as part of a test that will let Pittsburgh customers hail a self-driving car. They will roll out of Uber's Advanced Technologies Center, less than three miles from Carnegie Mellon University, from which Uber poached some of the school's top robotics experts.

When it opened the facility 18 months ago, the San Francisco ride-hailing start-up, which has a valuation of $62.5 billion, threw its hat into an increasingly crowded ring of automakers and tech firms racing to be first to market with a self-driving car.

Most firms have already logged autonomous miles on public roads, usually with their own engineers behind the wheel. In Singapore earlier this year, an American start-up called nuTonomy started offering rides to passengers in which an engineer sat in the driver's seat while the car drove on its own.

Uber Technologies Inc. will be the first company in the U.S. to offer commercial self-driving rides to passengers.

"Self-driving is core to Uber's mission of providing reliable transportation everywhere to everyone," Anthony Levandowski, vice president of engineering at Uber, told the media at the company's robotics center Tuesday.

While Uber gave the impression last month that it was ahead of the game, boldly announcing that it would soon offer self-driving car rides to its customers, this week it outlined a more conservative plan.

The company will invite loyal Pittsburgh customers to opt into the...

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