Driverless Cars in Pittsburgh

Driverless Cars in Pittsburgh

Driverless Cars in Pittsburgh

You have probably already seen Uber’s prototype driverless vehicles around town as they are hard to miss with its rooftop sensors and communications equipment. Uber began accepting passengers last week.  For now, an Uber employee stays behind the steering wheel to intercede if the car’s self-driving system makes a mistake or encounters a complication.  The operators are instructed to loosely grip the steering wheel at all times and must be ready to take over immediately at any time. Pittsburgh was chosen as a test city for a variety of reasons.  Pittsburgh is home to Uber's new Advanced Technologies Center, which is staffed by many former Carnegie Mellon University researchers. Moreover, it is a challenging place to drive with its combination of bridges, tunnels, one-way streets, bicyclists, bad weather, and potholes.  "We like to call Pittsburgh the double-black-diamond of driving," said Raffi Krikorian, leader of Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center, using a term for an extremely difficult ski slope. "If we really can master driving in Pittsburgh, then we feel strongly that we have a good chance of mastering it in most other cities around the world." Local transportation activists say they support Uber's effort. "People are bad at driving," said Scott Bricker, executive director of the bicycling advocacy group Bike Pittsburgh. "Recently, a Pittsburgh bicyclist posted video of a self-driving Uber test car giving him space and passing at a slower speed in contrast to a car driven by a person.... If you ask me, taking the human factor out of driving can't happen fast enough." However, not everyone is excited about the new development, particularly those individuals who derive income from driving.  “When the self-driving-car revolution firmly takes hold, there will be carnage, according to Wolf Richter of the Wolf Street blog. Not the car-crash kind — though that is a prevalent fear — but on the employment front.  “The magnitude of this problem is breathtaking,” he wrote. Citing government figures, he says that 4.1 million jobs (the stat of the day in our daily Need to Know before-the-bell column) are at risk, including chauffeurs and drivers of trucks, cabs and ride-share vehicles. Still others, like Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. agrees with Uber that automation tends to foster economic growth.  If Uber’s technology one day brings down the cost of providing a ride from $10 to $5, people will have $5 in their pocket they didn’t have before. That extra money will lead to an overall better working economy, he said. “The idea that automation is going to eliminate jobs in the economy overall is at best exaggerated and almost certainly is not true,” Mr. Mishel said. What about accidents?  Interestingly, a study recently published in the Journal of Science found that autonomous (AVs) should reduce traffic accidents, but noted that they will sometimes need to choose between running over a pedestrian to save its passenger or sacrificing its passenger to save the life of a pedestrian. While the study participants approved of utilitarian AVs, i.e. AVs that sacrifice their passengers for the greater good, the overwhelmingly preferred to ride in AVs that protect passengers at all costs.  The vast majority of study participants also disapproved of enforcing utilitarian regulations for AVs and would be less willing to buy such an AV. A representative from the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said the administration plans to release updated guidelines on autonomous vehicles and automated safety technology this summer. In April 2016, NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind announced that the "NHTSA is developing operational guidance for the safe deployment of automated vehicles. This guidance will provide manufacturers and other stakeholders with guidelines for how NHTSA expects safe automated vehicles to behave in a variety of conditions.” When a driverless car gets in an accident, causes property damages or injuries, or breaks the law who's responsible? There are various candidates: -The manufacturer of the car; -The owner of the car, who decided to operate it in driverless mode and failed to take over in time; -The make of the software, sensors or other systems that went into the car; and/or, -Those responsible for training the owner of the driverless car. Like it or not, the future is here and being paved in Pittsburgh.