Uber announced plans Wednesday to start using self-driving cars to pick up passengers in Pittsburgh sometime in the next several weeks. That’s one way to (indirectly and perhaps accidentally) deal with an apparently pervasive sexual assault issue!
The AP reports that the cars will be Ford Fusions, arriving soon in downtown Pittsburgh and offering free rides, for now. Bloomberg Businessweek reports that the self-driving Volvos will also eventually be part of the fleet. Also, importantly, for the moment there will still be a human being behind the wheel to supervise:
Uber’s Pittsburgh fleet, which will be supervised by humans in the driver’s seat for the time being, consists of specially modified Volvo XC90 sport-utility vehicles outfitted with dozens of sensors that use cameras, lasers, radar, and GPS receivers. Volvo Cars has so far delivered a handful of vehicles out of a total of 100 due by the end of the year. The two companies signed a pact earlier this year to spend $300 million to develop a fully autonomous car that will be ready for the road by 2021.
On the one hand, fully autonomous cars are a really interesting step forward. On the other, it’s hard not to reflect on the fact that both Uber and Lyft fought bitter and expensive legal battles over background checks for their drivers. While there’s no hard evidence that ridesharing services are actually more dangerous than regular taxis, it’s also true that the company has some, let’s say, real hiccups to work out in terms of how they deal with reports of sexual assault. And whenever they tell you that they’re working on that one as fast as they can, or that more rigorous background checks are unfair (or claim that, actually, most violent incidents in an Uber are the passenger’s fault), let’s just remember what kind of technological feats this company is capable of, when they feel like it.