Of course we deserve to lament the lack of hoverboards, space colonies, dog-walking perambulators that almost kill the walker. Science-fiction does, after all, set a high bar. But if the future of transportation has anything for us to feel excited about today, it has to be the launch of Uber’s autonomous self-driving car trials in Pittsburgh.
Presspersons were given a sample of the latest advancement in automobile technology on Thursday when a fleet of 14 Ford Fusions ghost-steered them through the streets of Pittsburgh in the first-ever customer trial research exercise in autonomous technology. The exercise was conducted by the Pennsylvania-based Advanced Technologies Center.
The vehicles can be summoned with a phone call.
Equipped with radar, cameras, and sensors, the cars reportedly maneouvered through traffic, responding to vehicles in front that would brake suddenly, or a human being who walked across the road, even potholes, and of course, traffic signals.
It does all this through Lidar remote sensing technology, which collects information about the car’s surrounds by echolocating a laser beam to generate a 360-degree image for the vehicle.
Inside the vehicle, two Uber employees, engineers, are still required to accompany the customer during the test. One of them sits behind the wheel, but barely touching it, and keeps toggling between manual and auto modes with the press of a button. And the other has a laptop, recording all the data collected by the car.
For us, who are familiar with train and air transport, the sensation of being in a moving vehicle that you cannot see a human driver manning shouldn’t be all that disconcerting. Nonetheless, when it comes to cars, which we are accustomed to seeing with a driver to vent our road rage at, it is a different story.