Uber is bringing a small number of self-driving cars to its ride-hailing service in San Francisco.
However, the trial is likely to draw criticism as the technology firm is doing so without a permit to test self-driving vehicles, something Uber argues it does not need because its cars require a human back-up that can take control if the software fails.
The launch in Uber’s home town expands a public pilot programme the company started in Pittsburgh in September.
The testing allows everyday people to experience the cars as Uber works to identify glitches before expanding the technology’s use in San Francisco and elsewhere.
Uber’s self-driving tests in San Francisco will begin with a “handful” of Volvo luxury SUVs – the company would not release an exact number – that have been fitted with sensors so they can steer, accelerate and brake, and even decide to change lanes.
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 will cost the same as those with a human driver.
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 have conceded that the vehicles are nowhere near able to drive without a human ready to take control in some situations.