If you're in Pittsburgh over the next few weeks and see a Ford Fusion cruise by with a driver who doesn't seem to be doing much behind the wheel, you may be witnessing one of Uber's new self-driving cars. Even though many analysts have said the advent of truly autonomous vehicles is many years away, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick apparently couldn't wait that long, reports Bloomberg, tapping into robotics experts, engineers, and mechanics to beat Tesla, Google, and even old-school Ford to the punch. Toward that end, Uber will bring a fleet of custom cars—the AP notes it will consist of both the Fusions and soon-to-come Volvo SUVs—to Pittsburgh later this month so customers can commission temporarily free rides. It's all part of Kalanick's plan to eventually phase out Uber's human drivers and swap in the robots, which he says will make per-mile costs super-low and save lives.
Not that these early driverless Ubers will be completely sans humans. Engineers will be behind the wheel for now so they can wrest control if something goes amiss. And in the passenger seat, a "co-pilot" will observe and document each ride, in combination with the car's cameras, to find any bugs in the process. Safety remains the biggest issue right now: Although the Uber self-driving cars haven't had any accidents yet, the company's competitors have, and the autonomous Uber vehicles are still having major problems with certain navigational obstacles—they have trouble going over bridges on their own, for example. What makes Uber's foray into autonomous vehicles different from some of its competitors: It has no plans to manufacture its own cars en masse, but will instead forge alliance with carmakers to create its fleets. (Uber is trying to circumvent Google Maps.)