A Ride In Uber’s Self-Driving Car

from The New Yorker

One day they just appeared—Ford Fusions, some black, some white, with uber stamped on the side. With their twenty cameras, seven lasers, and rooftop-mounted G.P.S., the self-driving cars stood out. People stopped and stared as they took trial journeys around Pittsburgh. That was in the spring. Now, in the waning days of summer, passengers hailing an Uber X may be picked up by one of the city’s many human drivers, or by one of a tiny fleet of autonomous vehicles. “I think that this is the most important thing that computers are going to do in the next ten years, is drive cars,” Anthony Levandowski, Uber’s vice-president of engineering, told a roomful of reporters on Monday, as the fleet prepared to ferry its first customers.

Inside, the cars look remarkably ordinary. They have two fewer cup holders than a standard Fusion, to accommodate two extra buttons in the center console, and, because of the equipment mounted on top, you can’t open the moonroof. In the trunk, a fan whirls continuously, cooling the extra machinery. 

The car that I rode in, like the rest of the fleet, wasn’t fully self-driving. It was still in test mode, and Pennsylvania law requires a human in the driver’s seat, so two vehicle operators, a man and a woman, sat up front. The man handled the wheel while the woman balanced a laptop that displayed real-time images from the external cameras. They told me to tap the screen between their seats when I was ready to go. As we began moving, I followed along on the screen, which informed me when the car was in autonomous mode and when the operator had overridden the system and taken the wheel. This happened several times. First, we got stuck behind a double-parked truck, which he had to navigate around. Then a group of pedestrians crossed against a traffic light. Bicyclists, it turned out, were especially tricky for the autonomous system to deal with; from the top, they appear like pedestrians, from the bottom, like some kind of vehicle.

More here.

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  1. Companies such as Uber, Google, and Apple are at the forefront of technology and making the strides needed to put us into that new age of tech. Continuously making new innovations day by day and through immense amounts of testing they come up with new tech that makes our lives even more productive than before. It’s remarkable that we are able to create cars that now drive themselves. Something thought to be the most human thing someone could do, driving a car, now isn’t even human anymore as cars just can be able to drive alone. These cars do however will eventually be able to drive with great accuracy and be able to avoid such crashes that our own reaction time will not be able to dodge. By having cameras that see all of the car’s surroundings they can make sure that these rides are as safe as can be. It’s just fact that these cars will be able to process information faster than any human and we can’t really ignore it and say that it doesn’t. This will come in due time as they keep testing these vehicles on the streets of Pittsburgh. I for one, am actually rooting for it to get to this point as it’s just another thing that we don’t have to worry about doing. Driving a car isn’t something we need to do to survive, although it may result in some job loss as taxi drivers or current Uber drivers lose their job to these autonomous machines.

    Society is actually beginning to combat these types of changes as an app is now being developed for taxi drivers and mimics the same functionality of Uber’s app. Where someone will be able to hail a cab just from the push of a button and know exactly when it will get there. After all the thing that Uber really sells to its customers is time. The ability to get to a certain point faster than any other service is gaining back people’s time and that’s what Uber packages up and sells through it’s easy to use app. Now, that’s also the problem with society as it’s always about getting to a certain point as fast as possible and that’s what has made these companies put so much money into faster services and autonomous driving. As Mark Marino said above, “A main concern for the passenger is the fact that you are getting in a car that is driven by a computer not a human.” People may like the human touch of a regular Uber driver and resent the fact of autonomous driving, but isn’t it already technically autonomous driving? We are already being ordered around by technology without knowing it. The app that Uber drivers already use on a daily basis is just ordering them around on where to go and when. The computer is still technically making all of the shots and making sure you get there from point A to point B and the human is just there to turn the wheel of the car.

  2. With Uber opening an autonomous vehicle research facility and Google announcing its intent to enter ridesharing, it’s obvious these behemoths see the enormous opportunity in self-driving cars. However, it probably won’t click for riders until they experience it. Companies will take advantage of this void to craft engaging experiences for riders and the quality of these experiences will determine which self-driving taxi riders will choose.
    We’ve created a concept to explore what this experience might look like for a first time user called AutoUber. Your Uber arrives right on time, but as it’s pulling up you notice something’s different. It’s easy to pick out from the other cars with its colored streak of light, matching your preference in the app. As you approach the car, the door raises as if to give you a friendly welcome. Upon entering the cabin, the Netflix you were watching earlier pops up on a large display where the driver should be. Woah. As you settle into your own private cabin you feel the electric motor engage without a sound. As the car pulls up to your destination you don’t want to leave. Then your fare pops up. $1.50 for a trip all the way across town? It finally clicks… this is awesome.
    Without the need for a driver, we can treat the interior of the vehicle like a blank canvas. The cabin will adapt to your commuting preferences. Electric hub motors will add to this flexibility, freeing up storage and increasing cabin space by replacing the standard central powertrain of the past. Suspended Omni-directional seats provide exceptionally smooth turns and allow the interior to automatically adapt to the number of riders and their preferred seating positions – whether that’s a deep-sleep recline or a face-to-face meeting.
    We expect AI to play a central role in how autonomous cars learn about users and see user profiles being a key factor in the adoption of this technology. There’s less of a need to own your own vehicle when AutoUber can cater perfectly to your preferences.
    These cars can also be put to other tasks while they’re not taxiing passengers. Automatically checking in for maintenance during downtime. Tapping into a power station. Auto-detailing their interior between customers. Delivering food and goods. Imagine AutoUber arriving in the morning to take you to work with the package you ordered from Amazon last night on your seat.
    The battle for self-driving taxis will be fierce, but the spoils will be worth it. It will open up new opportunities for companies to deliver innovative experiences. Riders will enjoy a new level of personalization, cheaper rides, and enhanced reliability and safety. We think self-driving taxis will not just be the primary entry point for autonomous cars but also presents a fantastic opportunity for fully electric cars to finally become ubiquitous.

  3. Self driving cars are going to be the thing of the future and will slowly take over the roads as technology advances. These self driving cars will be incorporated into Ubers fleet of cars and I believe that this will have some advantages but will also bring some disadvantages to it. As the author stated, the obvious disadvantages would be glitches in the system or the system not recognizing a pedestrian or a bicyclist on the street. This could cause a serious injury so the system has to be precious and 100% working. The advantage for Uber is more profit for them. Since they would not have to pay their drivers, they could use that money elsewhere.
    With the advantage of Uber not having to pay their drivers, this brings up the topic of job losses. This is because Uber could use more automated drivers instead of paying human drivers to get the job done. This has caused some Uber drivers to be angry and I don’t blame them. I would not want to lose my job and my lifestyle to an automated driver. Also as an Uber user, I would rather have a human drive me than a computer that could mess up and cause an accident or someone getting hurt. Overall, self driving cars are becoming more popular and companies like Uber are starting to use them to try and get an advantage over their competition.

  4. As an avid Uber customer, I can not see this being a good idea. Personally I do not trust self driving cars. One of my best friends dads has a Tesla with the self driving mode and it is so intimidating. The reason it is so intimidating is because of how perfect it is. Driving at highway speeds the car stays so smooth and brakes so softly. Honestly, I enjoy the subtle conversation with the drivers. It is comforting if you are having a not so great day to talk to a real person.

    The reason this scares me is because of the what if factor. What if the driver is not paying attention and the car decides to veer off the road? I know that these cars are designed to not do this, but even computers make mistakes. I personally will not ride in a self driven car nor ever buy one. As a car enthusiast, I enjoy driving my cars.

  5. I have used Uber several times and each time I have learned a lot about the drivers. Once I get into the car and ride, I ask the typical questions for the drivers like how long have you been driving with Uber, why did you start driving with Uber, is this your full-time job, and what is the craziest thing that has happened while you have been driving with Uber? Most answers are the typical answers. Most of the drivers have been with Uber for six months to a year, they want extra money, this is not their full-time job, and some crazy stories that sometimes aren’t very appropriate to speak about. The questions I do ask that surprises me is do they drive with Lyft and if so, which driving system do they prefer? Most say yes and they prefer Lyft. Most factors are due to the fact Lyft is more flexible and combatible with customers and drivers, the pay is better, and Lyft allows tips through the system rather than jars and containers where stealing could and sometimes does happen. After hearing the poor treatment that Uber drivers get compared to Lyft, I can see why most people use Lyft, but also why Uber would want driverless cars. This idea lets the company save and earn more money, bring down the ride fair, and increase privacy and protection from strangers. I have ridden in some Uber cars where I have felt uncomfortable and even unsafe. AI has been becoming more involved in everyday lives like using Google Home, Siri, and Amazon Alexa giving users help without having them lift a finger. By taking the step closer of having no drivers on the road would eliminate taxi drivers and even Uber and Lyft drivers, not only saving time for more activities but to have safer roads for more people to use their own transportation. It will take some time for this conversion to switch over to no drivers in cars, but it will happen soon which could leave some people happy and more interested to get behind the wheel, but also upset some since people and driving companies would be out of a job since drivers would no longer be needed.

  6. As of right now we live in a rapidly changing world. Technology is advancing at an exponential rate and companies are starting to capitalize on new markets based around it. Erika Beras’s article talks about one company already starting to make that change; Uber. Personally, I have used Uber many times. It is a fantastic service that is affordable a convenient to anyone who is out of state or simply does not have vehicle access. Ubers grasp on the market has already proved its might by nearly phasing out traditional taxis and spawning their own competitors I.E Lyft. Now Uber is looking to incorporate self-driving cars into their repertoire, autonomous vehicles that pilot themselves towards your destination. In the article, Erika explains that testing of these self-driving cars is limited to Pittsburgh and describes her trip inside the autonomous vehicle. While Uber presents many impressive features and advantages for self-driving cars, they also propose dark future. A company’s biggest expense is its employees which require training, salaries, unemployment, and benefits. So, switching to machines that don’t require any of these things’ companies can cut their costs and maximize their profits. With the rate technology is evolving we will see human workers being replaced by machines. Erika even mentions the disgruntled attitudes of Uber drivers who will potentially lose their jobs to self-driving cars. As of right now autonomous vehicles are in their infancy but are only one example of what the future of technology holds.

  7. At my initial glance of Beras’s article, I was a surprised with how publicly Uber released their technology research for self-driving cars. The addition of autonomous vehicles to Uber’s fleet would result in millions of saved costs every year, but would also cause a huge hole in the employment of many that rely on Uber as a primary or secondary source of income. The majority of the backlash has come from the Uber drivers themselves. According to the article, over four thousand Uber drivers have taken the streets of Pittsburgh even after being established there for only two years. Uber’s self-driving system can challenge the jobs in this ride sharing market. Not to mention Uber’s fiercest rival, Lyft, also has millions of drivers in the US and overseas. Having a fleet of autonomous vehicles would allow Uber to cut down on the costs that come from splitting payment with Uber drivers. Since the demand for transportation isn’t going anywhere soon, Uber will be able to collect large profits by maintaining a low variable cost. Some critics argue the implementation of self-driving cars because they believe that the beauty of Uber comes from the interaction between the driver and passenger. In my own experience however, most of my Uber drivers remain silent in order to focus on getting to the destination as fast as possible. Another thing that is shocking is the lack of remorse that is expressed by the Uber CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi. Khosrowshahi publicly held his position that the company is “committed” to pursuing autonomous vehicles for the company’s future despite the millions of drivers that are employed through ride sharing. With autonomous vehicles Uber also eliminates a lot of the liabilities of accidents on the driver’s part. The same effect can be transferred to the trucking industry as well. Uber’s exploration into the field of self-driving is just one of the many endeavors of artificial intelligence. These days, almost every tech company has some sort of algorithm in place that allows for automated service without the need of any human interaction. Amazon is also playing with this idea of delivery drones as a way to eliminate delivery trucks. These two corporations are just the very tip of the technology iceberg. With automation being such a staple in companies these days, society is not aware of the can of worms we may be opening by pursuing this.

  8. We live in a world that technology is quickly advancing and pretty much are taking over jobs that humans are capable of. Cutting off jobs and replacing them with a cheaper and more efficient alternative that will cut their cost and raise their profits. I’ve never used Uber since I drive my own car and do not find it necessary for me to ride one. I was very shocked that Uber released their technology for self-driving cars. I personally do not like the idea of autonomous vehicles because it provides a safety hazard for who is in the car and those who surround it. I understand that it is limited in Pittsburgh and Erika Beras’s first hand on an autonomous vehicle but find it hard that people will like this. This type of technology should be very scrutinized on how we should use it. I personally think this will create a more dangerous roadway. It will also affect those who drive for a living. If this type of technology can replace any type of transportation. Unemployment will increase since this could replace taxi drivers, Uber drivers, and Uber’s competitors. Potentially truck driver also, has a company find that is much more efficient to have a self-driving vehicle, than to pay for salaries, benefits, etc. This will create an increase in unemployment and with the take over of technology, it is virtually impossible to find a job that is not replaced with some sort of technology. Technology should be present with the intention to help provide some assistance. Technology is not totally here to replace what can be done by humans. I think we are advancing with technology a little too rapidly than we expected. I want technology to have used in the world, to improve what humans lack in. This obscured that technology will replace any human occupation for the greed of many companies.

  9. Ever since Tesla came out with the Model X, self- driving cars have lately been on high demand for consumers. I knew that Tesla’s were a car company that was known for the self-driving models in their cars however, I never knew Uber was trying to develop this program for their system as well! Our generation always is on the lookout for new products especially in technology. Consumers tend to buy products that benefit them more with use of less effort. Self-driving vehicles is definitely something new and worth a while for people to invest in. However, with this new technology there is always fear of malfunctions or risks occurring when in motion. In the future, it seems as if majority of our society will depend on these vehicles primarily for transportation or trips that take a lot of mileage.

    When a company trains a car to act as if it is a human, a lot of errors can occur. Although you are able to test-drive the car before purchase, you will never know if the program ever glitches. The idea sounds extremely exciting of being to get driven to work without driving it by yourself! However, the idea of fear behind a malfunction is always overwhelming. Due to this, these cars can either be very beneficial or extremely dangerous. A study conducted by the company, Axos, in California, found that 38 incidents have already occurred when self-driving cars where in autonomous mode! The statistics of self-driving cars are pretty overwhelming! In order for self-driving cars to be completely efficient in the future, companies like Uber and Tesla, should perform as many tests to ensure no chance of interruptions through the program or chance of accidents.

    Personally, I lived in New York for two years before moving back to New Jersey. I used to take Ubers every day to my old college and back. I would hate waiting for Uber’s in terrible weather especially when the drivers would cancel on me. For Uber to come out with self-driving vehicles for customers sounds extremely beneficial especially for commuters like me. The thought of an Uber driving not being able to cancel on me sounds satisfying! However, I would always be cautious and anxious until the program of the self-drive cars are 100% safe to ride and drive.

  10. The concept of self driving cars have been a topic of conversation for the last several years. Tesla has come out with a feature that offers self driving which has advanced technology tremendously. Now Uber is testing out self driving vehicles which is very futuristic but it is not far from happening. Uber has started a trial in Pittsburgh which the vehicle has several cameras, GPS, and lasers. The car featured a man and a woman who had a computer and the other was behind the wheel. I lived in a city for about six months and used Uber everyday. Since I am used to having a driver when I get in the Uber, I do not think I would be open to be in a self driving Uber. This concept is very new and I would be very nervous to trust the vehicle, especially in a city. Cities are full of traffic and chaos and I would be nervous to see how a self driving car would be able to handle this. Although I am not open to this concept now, I think in the future when this is more common I will alter my view. I think Uber will do this sooner rather than later because this will advance this business. This will help Uber advance their business because they will no longer have to employee drivers. Although they will not have to pay employees they will have to pay for the vehicles and have lots of liability because this advancement has not been perfected.

  11. Uber has become a huge company and huge hit amongst people searching for rides to places. Uber has allowed normal people to become drivers and it has been it easier for people to find rides to get to work or a place of interest. With that alone they have made some waves in the industry. But this is taking them into new territory. Self-driving cars have been on the uprising for some years now. The whole idea of not having to drive has been a thought that people have been trying to perfect. But it is still a developing technology. Now if Uber can pull this off, they will not need the drivers to drive anymore. Instead they would need people to monitor these cars and ensure that they are safe and that the passengers are safe and make it to their destination. I think self driving cars are unique but I myself would not want one. I prefer to be in control and I would not like to be in a car where no one is driving. I would not put my life in the hands of a computer at this point. This technology is still very new and I am not 100% trusting of it. So while I would not want to be a passenger, this new idea is expanding into new territory and has the opportunity to be very successful if everything goes right.

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