Uber has announced it will begin testing driverless vehicles in the Pittsburgh area in the coming weeks as calls for the US government to embrace the technology grow stronger.
Uber, which runs an app-based taxi service, has already created a test car in its Advanced Technologies Center (ATC).
The car, a hybrid Ford Fusion, will be collecting mapping data as well as testing its self-driving capabilities.
When it’s in self-driving mode, a trained driver will be in the driver’s seat monitoring operations.
Uber said it has outfitted the vehicle with an array of sensors including radars, laser scanners, and high resolution cameras to map details of the environment.
But influential energy group Securing America's Future Energy (SAFE), which seeks to reduce US dependence on foreign oil, has called on policymakers to remove regulatory hurdles for autonomous vehicles in order to accelerate its deployment, as well as revise tax incentives to boost sales of less expensive electric vehicles.
The calls echo similar comments made by Google in December when it said it was ‘gravely disappointed’ following a ‘relaxation’ of the legislation around driverless cars in the state of California.
Uber said that real-world testing was critical to its efforts to develop the technology.
“Self-driving cars have the potential to save millions of lives and improve quality of life for people around the world,” the company explained in a blog post.
“1.3 million people die every year in car accidents – 94 per cent of those accidents involve human error.
“In the future we believe this technology will mean less congestion, more affordable and accessible transportation, and far fewer lives lost in car accidents. These goals are at the heart of Uber’s mission to make transportation as reliable as running water – everywhere and for everyone.”
A report from SAFE called for federal rules on autonomous vehicles that would pre-empt state standards and asked the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to revise the rules that prescribe specific requirement safety equipment and technology that could bar fully autonomous cars without drivers.
The group also seeks to create a federal program for addressing autonomous vehicle liabilities for early autonomous vehicle deployment to encourage adoption. That would be similar to the National Vaccine Injury Compensation program. The report also urges pilot projects to test automated delivery trucks.
SAFE wants the creation of a single office at the US Transportation Department and a White House interagency working group to oversee autonomous vehicle deployment.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, the UK’s Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has said that driverless cars will become a ‘real option’ for motorists to buy in the near future as a result of a government pledge to make the UK a world leader in their development.
The Queen's Speech on Wednesday set out plans to boost the development and implementation of innovative technologies like autonomous vehicles and space flight with the introduction of the Modern Transport Bill.
"We are already developing a charging infrastructure for electric and hybrid vehicles, now driverless cars and commercial spaceflights may seem like science fiction to some but the economic potential of these new technologies is vast," McLoughlin said.
"We are determined that Britain will benefit by helping to lead their development.
"Driverless cars will come under new legislation so they can be insured under ordinary policies.
"Those new laws will help autonomous and driverless vehicles and cars become a real option for private buyers and fleets."