Automated Uber Spotted in SF was Collecting Data — Not Driving Itself

Following a recent sighting in San Francisco, the autonomous Uber is reportedly only being used to collect data for mapping.

by Carolyn Said, San Francisco Chronicle / September 7, 2016
A Volvo XC90 retrofitted with self-driving technology for Uber. Volvo

(TNS) -- An Uber car tricked out with self-driving technology was spotted in San Francisco over the weekend by news site SFist, fueling speculation that the ride-hailing company is testing autonomous taxis right here in its hometown.

Uber confirmed that the vehicle in question is a self-driving car from Uber Advanced Technologies Center, the department it set up in Pittsburgh with researchers hired from Carnegie Mellon University.

However, it’s not being used for that purpose, Uber said. Operated by a driver, it is cruising city streets to collect data for mapping. While the car sports lots of cameras and other technology on the roof, it looks different from cars used for mapping, which typically mount their apparatus on a tall pole that towers above the vehicle.

The car’s ultimate destination is Otto, the South of Market company developing a kit to retrofit trucks for autonomy. Uber bought Otto last month for a reported $680 million. Otto CEO Anthony Levandowski, a veteran of Google’s self-driving project, will lead Uber’s autonomous driving work in San Francisco, Palo Alto and Pittsburgh.

Uber said it is still on track to start testing self-driving taxis in Pittsburgh this month, and there have been some sightings of the vehicles there. The cars are adorned with an Advanced Technologies Center label and the Web address, uberatc.com/car. Passengers will have to opt in through the app to be randomly selected for a free test ride — although a human driver will still be behind the wheel.

©2016 the San Francisco Chronicle Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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