The next time Pittsburgh residents hail an Uber, they could have a new option: the company is kicking off its self-driving car pickup service in the city today.
The company announced that it’s opening up the feature to a select group of “loyal Pittsburgh customers.” If a self-driving Uber is available, it and a human safety driver will show up when requested. If one isn’t, an UberX will show up like usual.
You’ll find out soon enough if you’re one of those select users, as the company will be emailing a few thousand frequent customers today. They’ll be able to hail a self-driving vehicle at no charge — for now — if their trip meets the criteria, notes the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The company admits that there will be questions about the technology, considering it’s still early in the self-driving game. Uber says the human test driver can always take control, however.
“Self-Driving Ubers have a safety driver in the front seat because they require human intervention in many conditions, including bad weather,” the company said in a blog announcing today’s news.
And even when technology catches up to humans and can deal with those kinds of situations, Uber says ridesharing will still be a mix of services provided by both human drivers and self-driving Ubers, due to the limits of self-driving software and “the skyrocketing demand for better transportation which people-powered transport is uniquely able to solve.”
So what’s it like?
Uber took some journalists on a ride in Pittsburgh recently to show off the new self-driving option, including writers from TechCrunch, the Los Angeles Times, and The Verge, to mention a few.
They all seemed to have a similar experience: two engineers sitting in the front seat, one at the wheel, hovering and ready to take over if needed, and the other taking notes on a laptop. The consensus also appears to be that the car itself felt like a normal Uber vehicle, despite a tablet display in the back seat and a Lidar unit spinning on the top of the car.
In general, it also seems that while there were a few lurching, jerky-jerky stops on each ride, for the most part the trip was smooth. The Verge’s Andrew Hawkins says his car dropped out of autonomous mode abruptly sometimes, but other writers didn’t report that.
But after some initial nerves, everyone seemed to get, well, a little bored.
“I got bored and started admiring the view out the window instead,” writes the LA Times’ Tracey Lien, adding this was her second trip in a self-driving Uber, and her second time being bored.
“It was so normal it got a little bit boring,” writes TechCrunch’s Signe Brewster, of her car, which obeyed traffic laws and stopped when it was supposed to, maneuvering around obstacles. “The butterflies disappeared quickly.”
“Overall, riding in Uber’s self-driving car was equal parts thrilling and mundane,” notes Hawkins.
Human drivers did need to take over on some trips, but even that sounds like it was no big deal.
“The driver took over only on one occasion — when another vehicle ran a stop sign,” Lien notes. “And it was only obvious that he’d taken over because I could see his arms move. The rest of the time, they remained still, his hands barely touching the steering wheel as it turned back and forth on its own.”
If you live in Pittsburgh and end up hailing one of these self-driving Ubers, feel free to drop us a line about your experience at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Consumerist.