Uber started testing self-driving cars in Pittsburgh in September, and now they’re expanding that program to include San Francisco. The move to the west coast includes the addition of Volvo XC90s to the test fleet of Ford Fusions.
As with the cars roaming around Pittsburgh, these won’t be empty when they pull up to the curb. There will be two engineers along for the ride to monitor how the cars perform.
California’s driving regulations are precise when it comes to self-driving cars. Commercial ride-hailing fleets are not permitted to test unsupervised so Uber can’t simply deploy a completely empty car to your location, yet.
That’s not a problem for Uber, because its cars aren’t fully autonomous. Their engineers have to be behind the wheel and ready to take control whether the vehicles are in autonomous or manual modes. If the idea of having a self-driving Uber isn’t appealing, even one with a human at the wheel, then you can decline the ride in the Uber app and wait for a regular Uber instead.
The move from Pittsburgh to San Francisco comes after three months of testing, which helped Uber refine their software. It’s smarter than it was at the start and it’s more capable of handling bad weather. San Francisco allows Uber to further improve its software with new challenges including a higher traffic density, narrower lanes, and more bike traffic.
The new program is also larger than what they had in Pittsburgh. The Steel City featured only a small fleet of self-driving vehicles offering rides to a limited number of frequent customers in an area of the city just a few miles wide. In San Francisco, the program will be open to anyone who hails an UberX.
The new Volvos will also let passengers have a little fun with touchscreen displays that show the car’s route along with the view the car sees through its cameras and laser systems. Those so inclined can even mug for a rear-facing camera and take a selfie they can then email to themselves or share on social media.
A total of 50 Volvo XC90s SUVs will be fitted with self-driving technology and are set to roam the hilly streets of San Francisco. The program officially rolls out today.