How are Uber's self-driving cars doing in Pittsburgh?

Uber launched a small fleet of self-driving vehicles in Pittsburgh in August, and reviews so far have been mixed. 

  • close
    A self driving Uber car drives on Liberty Ave. through the Bloomfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh.
    Gene J. Puskar/AP/File
    View Caption
  • About video ads
    View Caption

Back in August, the 800-pound ride-sharing gorilla known as Uber launched a fleet of self-driving vehicles in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Earlier this week, Quartz published an alleged expose about the pilot project, implying that it was off to a rocky start, but frankly, that doesn't seem to be the case.

Uber has acknowledged a fender-bender involving one of its four autonomous Ford Fusions (which will be joined by around 100 Volvo XC90 SUVs before the end of the year). However, as is often the case with autonomous cars, the accident was actually caused by the human driver of a different vehicle, which rear-ended the Fusion.

There has also been one citizen report of an autonomous Uber driving the wrong way down a one-way street, but it's not clear whether the human behind the wheel was in control of the vehicle at the time. Uber says that it has no reports of such an incident taking place. 

So, is Uber's autonomous vehicle pilot program in trouble? By any metric, the answer is no.

Admittedly, the program is small in scope. It's confined to a particular area of town, limited to certain driving conditions, and requires two front-seat passengers in each vehicle, one of whom can take control at a moment's notice. Given those restrictions, maybe it's not surprising that the program hasn't seen more accidents.

Then again, Google's self-driving cars have logged more than 2,000,000 miles, with only one minor accident blamed on Google's software. (A major accident involving one of the vehicles last month was the fault of another driver running a red light.) 

Whether Uber's autonomous technology--which it's developing on its own--can match those kinds of odds remains to be seen. And to be fair to Uber's critics, the company's rush to put a fleet of self-driving vehicles on the roads in Pittsburgh seemed like more of a PR stunt than a push to make roads safer. 

But no matter the company's intentions, the fact remains that self-driving vehicles will eventually lead to fewer accidents and fatalities. The decline won't happen tomorrow or next year--perhaps not for several decades--but there's not doubt that it will happen. Because as much as we hate to admit it, none of us can drive better than computers

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best auto bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on the link in the blog description box above.


We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.