Uber realises that the driver is a big element in the transportation cost as part of the mobility service it provides, but is treading carefully on removing that element

Uber realises that the driver is a big element in the transportation cost as part of the mobility service it provides, but is treading carefully on removing that element

Uber has started a self-driving ride-hail trial in the US city of Pittsburgh where it has a research centre.

The company says the pilot scheme is a big step forward and that "creating a viable alternative to individual car ownership is important to the future of cities".

The self-driving Ubers in the test will have a safety driver in the front seat "because they require human intervention in many conditions, including bad weather". Uber also said that even when these technology issues get fixed, "we believe ridesharing will be a mix—with services provided by both drivers and Self-Driving Ubers". It said it believes there will be limits to self-driving software and the skyrocketing demand for better transportation which "people-powered transport is uniquely able to solve".

That may go part-way to reassuring Uber's fleet of owner-drivers that they are not going to be replaced by autonomous vehicles.

The company also said that "technology also creates new work opportunities while disrupting existing ones" and cited the example of ATMs cutting the cost of running a local bank "so more branches opened, employing more people". Uber also noted that Self-Driving Ubers will be on the road 24 hours a day, "which means they will need a lot more human maintenance than cars today".

Uber claims that its research centre in Pittsburgh – the Advanced Technologies Centre (ATC) – and its recent Otto acquisition mean it has "one of the strongest self-driving engineering groups in the world, as well as the experience that comes from running a ridesharing and delivery network in hundreds of cities".

It added that its existing partnerships with drivers, as well as new ones with manufacturers like Volvo, will "ensure a world-class customer experience for generations to come".

The ATC in Pittsburgh was set up with a mission to "make self-driving Ubers a reality".