Uber revealed last month that it will be testing self-driving cars in the streets of Pittsburgh soon, with free rides to be offered to customers who would like to try riding in an autonomous vehicle.
The fleet of self-driving taxis is set to be released this week, but the move is concerning for safety experts who claim that the technology is not yet ready for such a widespread implementation.
The experiment will be launched even with the fact that Pennsylvania has not passed basic laws that allow the testing of self-driving cars in the state, with no rules yet in place on what would happen in the case of an accident involving the vehicles. There is also no requirement for Uber to share the data that its vehicles will collect with regulators.
Researchers have also noted that self-driving cars have been confused by bridges, which is a big problem in Pittsburgh as it has more bridges compared with any other major city in the United States. In addition, vehicles cannot understand human gestures, such as an officer allowing children to cross the street, and the systems of the cars can be thrown off by devices such as GPS jammers.
"They are essentially making the commuters the guinea pigs," said former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration head and consumer protection advocate Joan Claybrook.
Claybrook warned that there will surely be crashes involved in the testing program, which she claimed can be done without having to involve citizens.
In addition to these red flags, Pittsburgh has not done much to prepare for the fleet of self-driving taxis that will soon be released into the city. There have so far been no demonstrations or public service announcements regarding Uber's technology, and only the mayor and a police official among the city's top leaders have seen a self-driving Uber taxi up close. In addition, emergency and fire services have not been informed of the routes these autonomous vehicles will take.
"It's not our role to throw up regulations or limit companies like Uber," said Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto, adding that cities that want to cultivate technology should welcome the developments of companies such as Uber instead of regulate them.
While rivals in the development of self-driving car technology such as Google and General Motors have previously conducted tests of autonomous cars in public roads, Uber will be the first company to allow everyday commuters to actually ride the self-driving cars.
Will Uber's testing program be successful, and launch a new age of self-driving vehicles being used for public transportation? Or are the concerns of safety experts true, with a host of accidents in Uber's future? Only time will tell.