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Uber and their New Driverless Cars

U.S. based car company Uber has joined the contest for driverless cars, the competition for the technology involving many major car manufacturers.

In eight days Uber will release its first driverless cars on the streets of Pittsburgh, USA. This has involved hundreds of hours planning and testing. Almost two years ago Uber turned up at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and set up a facility across from the famous robotics program to build a secret fleet of cars.

In the past three days Uber has allowed journalists to come and take the wheel or rather sit behind it as it drove them around.

Google, Apple, Tesla and Lyft are also in the race to produce driverless cars so the competition is high. It is better however to be ahead of the game so that you can produce your own technology instead of having to purchase it later on from another company who owns the designs. When questioned on why Uber is investing in this technology Raffi Krikorian the engineering director for Uber said:

“Think of it this way. Driving is actually a pretty dangerous thing. I think something like over a million people die in car accidents each year. Ninety percent of those are from human error. So if you think of the number of rides Uber offers on a daily basis--five million on average--part of it ends up being a safety issue for us. We also think we can do better in cities with autonomous vehicles. We think we can do much better congestion planning. We can be smart about how to move people around.”

Pittsburg is a very difficult city to drive through for anyone with many roads not wide enough for two-way traffic, roads don’t come together at right angles and there are minimal signs. Because of this though, it makes the perfect testing ground for the new technology. Not only are the roads difficult to maneuver around but the weather conditions there are rather extreme compared to the likes of California or Southern America.

So how do these driverless cars work?

A lazar scanner is situated on the top of the car and spins super-fast. Sixty four lazar beams sweep the surroundings continuously to detect objects and measure distances. From this data a model builds a 3D map of the street and runs different scenarios. The encoders within the tyres measure the distance the car moves, the high tech machines, wireless networks and massive computer power makes everything possible.

Of course the big question is what will happen if a driverless Uber car crashes. Raffi Krikorian has confidence in the engineering but if an accident were to happen then they would fully investigate it to ensure the programs are set up to react better in a future scenario.

”We see crazy stuff on the road every single day and we understand how well we would’ve done in that situation, through simulations or log analysis. We’ll look at what went wrong and figure out if there’s more data to feed the system so we can learn how to handle the situation better.”

You may be wondering how long it will be until we see driverless cars on the roads here. It will probably be quite a long time until Uber brings the driverless cars over to Europe, with London being the biggest hot spot in the UK. In America however they could be spotted within the next 10 years.


posted by: Abigail Lavallin 15 September 2016