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Uber's Self-Driving Cars Hit San Francisco Roads: Ride-Hailing Goes Autonomous

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After the successful launch of UberX in Pittsburgh last September, the company has also begun deploying the driverless vehicles in San Francisco.

As is the case in the Steel City, the recent roll out would also have any passengers in the area hail the self-driving vehicle through Uber's mobile app. Unlike the fleet of autonomous Fords in Pittsburgh, however, San Francisco streets will be prowled by the Volvo XC90 UberX version.

Volvo UberX vs. Ford UberX

According to Tech Crunch, there is a difference between these two autonomous cars. The former has been acquired stock off the line whereas Volvo has its proprietary sensor array, which complements Uber's sensors and supercomputers.

"The car is one of the reasons we're really excited about this partnership, it's a really tremendous vehicle," Matt Sweeney, head of product at Uber's Advanced Technologies Group, said. "It's Volvo's new SPA, the scalable platform architecture — the first car on their brand new, built from the ground up vehicle architecture, so you get all new mechanical, all new electrical, all new compute."

Still With Uber Drivers

Passengers eager to try the driverless UberX should not be surprised to find that it would pick-them up still manned by a pair of technicians. This includes a safety driver, which could takeover driving when needed and an Uber test engineer to monitor the UberX performance.

The inclusion of the engineer is particularly notable at this point. It highlights the fact that the Uber driverless technology is still a work in progress, learning from experience to develop technologies and new measures.

The outcome of the constant monitoring can be demonstrated in the way the Volvo UberX is outfitted with fewer sensors than the second-generation driverless Fords. Insights gained in the Pittsburgh pilot revealed that some sensors are no longer needed, so they have been eliminated in the latest batch of UberX.

UberX For San Francisco

Passengers in San Francisco should take heart, however, that despite the streamlined technology, the Volvo XC90 is still outfitted with the complete array of technologies necessary to guarantee safe and successful driverless experience. This includes the traditional optical cameras and radar as well as the LiDar and ultrasonic sensors.

Uber has also been testing UberX in San Francisco for some time. The sheer length of this testing period has been largely attributed to the goal of learning the San Francisco streetscape, which is significantly different from the urban topography of Pittsburgh.

"With its challenging roads and often varied weather, Pittsburgh provided a wide array of experiences," Uber said in a press statement. "San Francisco comes with its own nuances including more bikes on the road, high traffic density and narrow lanes."

There is an expectation, therefore, that UberX should already know the urban landscape like the back of its, well, hand.

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