While Uber is working to change regulations to compete against taxis, its real competition in the future will likely be much bigger – Google and a number of car makers.
Uber announced Thursday it has begun testing a self-driving car in Pittsburgh, where the ride-sharing company has its Advanced Technology Center.
The car, a hybrid Ford Fusion, is decked out with radars, laser scanners and high-resolution cameras, which are clearly visible on the roof.
The car will be collecting mapping data and testing the self-driving abilities. However, there will always be a driver ready to take the wheel.
"We're excited that Uber has chosen the Steel City as they explore new technologies that can improve people's lives – through increased road safety, less congestion, and more efficient and smarter cities," said Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto, in a statement.
The move doesn't come as a shock. In February 2015, the company partnered with Carnegie Mellon University and opened the Center in Pittsburgh. It is hoping to have a fleet of the self-driving cars on the road by 2020.
This is a game with a lot of competition. Ride-sharing rival Lyft announced it was teaming up with General Motors in January. The companies will use the Chevrolet Bolt as an electric taxi and hope to begin testing a fleet of them on public roads within a year.
Google, in connection with Fiat Chrysler, Ford, Lexus, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Kia, Volvo, BMW, Honda and Tesla are all working on their own technology.
The taxi version may prove the most profitable because having an on-demand car may be the preferred option for many as it will be less expensive than owning a car without losing much convenience. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has said many times that the driver is the most expensive part of its financial model.
"When there's no other dude in the car, the cost of taking an Uber anywhere becomes cheaper than owning a vehicle," said Kalanick in 2014, according to USA Today. "So the magic there is, you basically bring the cost below the cost of ownership for everybody, and then car ownership goes away."
However, this future is a long way away.
"Driverless car is a multi-decade transition," Kalanick tweeted in 2014. "Let's take a breath and I'll see you in the year 2035."
Transport Canada is providing millions of dollars to support a connected vehicle test-bed, Calgary is ramping up resources to be ready for autonomous vehicles on its roads by 2021, and Ontario launched a pilot program to allow for AV testing.
So far, no entities have enrolled.
Uber wrote in the statement, "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."
The big fear for city planners and anyone who hates sitting in traffic is that if anyone can summon a self-driving car at an inexpensive rate, congestion may get worse.
We've redesigned the Drive section – take a look