Uber is mapping roads throughout Washington D.C., as the company prepares for the introduction of self-driving vehicles throughout the U.S.
- Uber is mapping roads throughout the nation’s capital using three vehicles fitted with an array of sensors.
- For now, each vehicle is under manual control. Two Uber employees are seated in each vehicle and all driving is done via human input.
- Uber has conducted similar mapping programs in San Francisco, Dallas, Pittsburgh, and Toronto.
Who says nothing ever gets done in Washington D.C.? Uber is hitting the streets of the nation’s capital with three vehicles, each fitted with a sensor array to map roads and gather navigational data. The ride-share giant’s goal is to prepare for a future when autonomous taxis are plying the streets Washington, along with other major metropolitan sensors.
These aren’t self-driving vehicles, each Uber test car has two “Mission Specialists” in it at all times. The vehicles are constantly under manual control, and at no point are they collecting mapping data in using any form of autonomous drive mode. For the moment, this next step in Uber’s plan to introduce robotaxis is only taking place during testing in Pittsburgh. Even then, an Uber employee must be behind the wheel, ready to take control should the vehicle require human intervention.
The announcement of Uber Advanced Technology Group’s expansion into Washington D.C. was posted online by Danielle Burr, Uber’s Head of Federal Affairs. “We are using a phased approach to develop and deploy our self-driving vehicles, taking the necessary steps to operate safely in every city,” Burr stated. “Manual data collection is the first step in our development process and part of how we are validating our self-driving expansion approach.”
Beginning January 24, 2019, three Uber vehicles fitted with a bevy of road-mapping sensors will begin plying the roads of Washington D.C. (Photo: Uber)
Not only are the test vehicles gathering data using camera, radar, and laser sensors, they’re monitoring road and driving conditions that are unique to each city. These might include special bus or bike lanes, traffic circles, legal right turns during a red light, or other rules of the road that vary around the country. This data is run through Uber’s driving simulation programs, or simulated on controlled test tracks. Last year, Uber purchased an expansive parcel of land outside of Pittsburgh to serve as a test bed for the company’s self-drive research.
A controlled environment is what Uber needs if it’s to avoid accidents like the one that occurred in Tempe, Arizona, back in 2018. Despite having an Uber employee behind the wheel, the self-drive test vehicle (a Volvo XC90 sport-utility) hit and fatally wounded a pedestrian who darted across the vehicle’s path. The accident made national headlines and temporarily grounded Uber’s research into autonomous drive systems.
Uber has not stated any timeframe for when the company intends to have fully self-driving vehicles on public roads. Competition is fierce, however, as major automakers and tech companies, including Google’s self-drive division, Waymo, push to make the technology an everyday reality.
WHY THIS MATTERS
Uber adds another city to its robotaxi repertoire. Mapping roads and collecting data isn’t always very exciting, but it’s vitally important in the progression of autonomous drive tech.