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Your Next Uber Ride In San Francisco May Be In A Self-Driving Car

Hailing an Uber in San Francisco? Your next ride might be in one of the ride-hail giants self-driving cars.

Uber, which began putting riders in autonomous cars in Pittsburgh in September as part of a pilot program, is expanding its testing grounds to San Francisco. Starting Wednesday, riders who hail an UberX to travel within the citys limits might be picked up in one of the companys handful of self-driving Volvos. Uber wouldnt say exactly how many self-driving vehicles will hit the road in San Francisco, but said it plans to have a total of 100 self-driving cars there and Pittsburgh by the end of 2016.

For now, the cars arent 100% autonomous: Each vehicle still has a human driver behind the wheel to begin each ride by starting the ignition, shifting gears, and exiting a parking lot to reach the road, for example. A screen on the dashboard will tell the driver when the cars computers determine it is safe to turn on autonomous mode. And in the front passenger seat, a human co-pilot with a laptop will monitor the cars trajectory. The driver can take over at any time, and if the car determines a situation is too precarious, it may also beep and kick control back to the driver, whose hands are to remain hovered near the wheel. Theres a big red button near the gears, which a driver can push to turn off autonomous mode, or he or she can simply resume control of the vehicle by taking the wheel.

If youre matched with a self-driving Uber, youll see this notification:

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Riders have the option to turn down autonomous Uber rides by canceling their requests.


Driving in San Francisco will present a different set of challenges for autonomous cars than Pittsburgh: The California city has more traffic, more bikes and pedestrians, and narrower lanes. The self-driving cars will only accept rides from passengers whose routes are contained within the city of San Franciscos perimeters so no trips to Oakland or Palo Alto, for example.

It will look for routes where we have excellent support for autonomy, said Matt Sweeney, head of product at Uber. The cars will rely on Ubers own mapping technology and will drive at a maximum speed of 30 mph, meaning they will avoid highways.

Sweeney wouldnt say which cities Uber is planning to bring its autonomous vehicles to next, but its ambitions for self-driving vehicles are expansive.

The promise of self-driving is core to our mission of reliable transportation, everywhere for everyone, Anthony Levandowski, head of Ubers self-driving team, wrote in a blog post announcing the expansion. While it wont happen overnight, self-driving will be an important part of the future.

The company became the first to put passengers in self-driving cars through ride-hail in September in Pittsburgh, only 18 months are opening its Advanced Technologies Center, where many of its autonomous driving engineers work. Uber also purchased Otto, a self-driving truck startup, this summer. Otto completed its first self-driving truck delivery a beer run for Anheuser-Busch in October. And earlier this month, Uber announced it had purchased an artificial intelligence startup called Geometric Intelligence and said it is opening an AI lab to focus on machine-learning efforts such as self-driving.

Ubers self-driving expansion to SF also makes its rivalry with Google, based in nearby Mountain View, more evident. Google announced on Tuesday that its spinning its self-driving car program off into an independent company called Waymo, which will live under the parent company Alphabets umbrella. Waymo is also planning a ride-sharing program with Fiat Chrysler, The Information reported Monday.


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