This September, Uber, the app-summoned taxi service, launched a fleet of driverless Volvos and Fords in the city of Pittsburgh. While Google has had its own autonomous vehicles on the roads of Mountain View, California, Austin, Texas, Kirkland, Washington, and Phoenix, Arizona, for a few years, gathering data and refining its technology, Uber’s Pittsburgh venture marks the first time such cars will be available to be hailed by the American public. (The world’s first autonomous taxi service began offering rides in Singapore at the end of August, edging out Uber by a few weeks.)
Pittsburgh, with its hills, narrow side streets, snow, and many bridges, may not seem like the ideal venue to deploy cars that can have difficulty navigating hills, narrow streets, snow, and bridges. But the city is home to Carnegie Mellon’s renowned National Robotics Engineering Center, and in the winter of 2015, Uber lured away forty of its researchers and engineers for its new Advanced Technologies Center, also in Pittsburgh, to jump-start the company’s entry into the driverless car business.