Self-driving vehicles

How to hail a driverless Uber in Pittsburgh

You can’t get them anywhere, or anytime — but if you do, the ride is free (for now).

Uber's fleet of autonomous Ford Fusions from 2016

Uber's fleet of autonomous Ford Fusions from 2016

Jared Wickerham/ For The Incline
MJ Slaby

Several thousand Pittsburghers now have the ability to travel by self-driving car. How do you know if you’re one of them?

Check your email.

At 6 a.m., Uber emailed several thousand of its “most loyal customers” in Pittsburgh with the option to say yes — or no — to having a self-driving car sent to fulfill their ride-share requests. (FYI: Uber claims more than 145,000 users in the city.)

If you’re among the chosen few, the chances of actually getting a driverless Uber depend on several things:

  • The number of loyal customers who opt in and agree to the terms of riding in robot cars
  • The number of people you’re traveling with, as driverless Ubers can only respond to uberX requests from one or two passengers
  • Location, location, location. Driverless rides are only being offered in the testing zone area, aka parts of the Strip District, as well as Downtown and a little of the surrounding area.
  • And, time is a factor. Driverless cars won’t come to the rescue of late-night drinkers since they only run from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
  • Availability. Duh. There isn’t a specific number of driverless cars now picking up passengers, according to the company during a “media preview day” on Tuesday that The Incline attended.

That all happen? Here’s what happens next:

The Uber app will buzz with a notification to tell the rider a driverless car is coming. When it arrives, it will be topped with the oh-so-recognizable devices that allow the car to scan the area around it, as well as to see the color of stoplights. Which is important.

wickerham_theincline_uberselfdrivingcars_09_13_2016_201

You know what it is.

Jared Wickerham/Wick Photography

There are people in the car. They’re just not driving. Two Uber employees will already be inside the car. A “safety driver” will be behind the wheel, ready to take charge if needed. That person makes the self-driving car legal. Which is also important.

An engineer sits in the front passenger seat, armed with a laptop for data collection. An added screen on the dashboard displays typical GPS directions.

A second tablet on the console allows backseat passengers to have a real-time view of the data the car is collecting, route details and more.

screens on screens on screens

screens on screens on screens

Jared Wickerham/Wick Photography

Oh, and that ride? It will be free — at least for now.

Uber plans to grow the pilot program, expanding the number of cars, area and eligible users.

What kind of car will I get? Uber only has 14 Ford Fusions in its autonomous fleet here. In addition to those, the company also has a goal of putting 100 self-driving Volvos on Pittsburgh roads by the end of 2016.

And there are more emails headed to loyal customers. So the more rides you request, the better your chances of being in the second round.

Want some more? Explore other Self-driving vehicles stories.

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