Taxi-hailing service Uber announced on Wednesday that passengers in San Francisco can now use its app to summon a ride in a car that can drive itself.
The move into Uber’s hometown builds upon a public pilot program the company started in Pittsburgh in September.
Uber’s self-driving tests in San Francisco will begin with a “handful” of Volvo luxury SUVs. The company wouldn’t release an exact number that have been tricked out with sensors so they can steer, accelerate and brake, and even decide to change lanes. The cars will have an Uber employee behind the wheel to take over should the technology fail. Users of the app may be matched with a self-driving car, but can opt out if they prefer a human driver. Self-driven rides cost the same as ordinary ones.
The cars will be put to the test in the congested streets of San Francisco. The city can be a daunting place to drive given its famously steep hills, frequent fog, street and cable cars, an active bicycle culture, and roads that are constantly being repaved, remarked and restricted for bike lanes and traffic management.
Uber believes its technology is ready to handle all this safely, though its executives concede the vehicles are nowhere near able to drive without a human ready to take control in dicey situations.
There was room for improvement during a Tuesday test drive attended by The Associated Press . The car was destined for a local pizza parlor, but didn’t pull directly in front of the restaurant, and instead stopped in the middle of the street. The cars may strike some riders as over-cautious, too. During the test drive, one idled in a traffic jam even though an adjacent lane was clear, prompting the human driver to make the move himself.
Once testing is complete, the ultimate vision is to sell to the public technology which supporters argue will save thousands of lives because it doesn’t drink, text, fall asleep or take dangerous risks.