TECH: Autonomous Ubers Running Into Trouble In Pittsburgh

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Uber is currently participating in a self-driving pilot program in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. If you hail an Uber in the city and are part of a select group of local riders, then you might get one of its four self-driving Ford Fusions to take you on your way.

The only problem is some of those Fusions are having a hard time with tricky stuff, like driving the wrong way on one-way streets.

This small fleet of cars operates during limited hours in select areas and has to have two humans sitting up front. There’s a safety driver behind the wheel to take over in case of trouble,¬†and there’s an engineer in the passenger seat.

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There was at least one instance where an Uber needed its humans to intervene. There is a report of an Uber going the wrong way on a one-way street in an Oakland neighborhood near the University of Pittsburgh. The human driver took over and turned the car around before there was an accident.

Another incident involved a car tapping the fender of a self-driving Uber. Bystanders report that it appeared minor and no one seemed hurt, but it proves the point that self-driving cars aren’t immune from accidents nor are they mistake-proof.

Self-driving cars operate in a way that’s counterintuitive to humans. They’re overly cautious, which can cause confusion for human drivers in other cars. It’s difficult to tell what these cars are about to do at crowded intersections where they pause longer leaving humans to wonder what’s going on. It’s in the interest of safety that they’re so cautious, but it become a problem when that cautious nature confuses other drivers.

Different companies are tackling the challenge of tricky driving scenarios in different ways. Uber wants its cars to avoid difficult intersections and has even programmed its cars in Pittsburgh to hug the curb on one corner because turning trucks might swing wide. It aims for safety through avoidance. Other companies, like Nvidia, aim to teach the cars to think so they will gradually learn to handle all the complexities of everyday driving.

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Pennsylvania doesn’t have much to say because they have no autonomous vehicle legislation yet. There are federal guidelines in the works and state requirements, but in the meantime, Uber can continue to test their fleets in Pittsburgh. If you happen to be driving in The Steel City, then you might want to pay closer attention to those autonomous Ubers if they come your way.