Uber is the latest company to get its driverless car plans into gear, with test vehicles hitting the roads of Pittsburgh, the location of its Advanced Technologies Centre.
The billion dollar startup is embracing more technology with Ford Fusion cars which drive themselves.
The head of the research centre John Bares told the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, which first reported the story: “We have the world's best test site right at our doorstep. We view it as, it's not quite Everest, but it's a hard mountain … but the beautiful thing is we do have that mountain right out of our front door to climb.”
The city has narrow and hilly streets, haphazard parking, rain and snow and ageing infrastructure, the local newspaper reports, making it a challenge for the cars.
Challenging terrain and weather were cited by Google, another of the firms leading the way in developing the technology, for its decision to test beyond the flat and sunny roads of California, where they are based. In February it revealed tests in Washington State, close to Seattle, where rain was a particular bump to overcome.
Uber announced last year that it would partner with robotics lab Carnegie Mellon to develop new technology and later poached around 40 researchers to staff the Advanced Technologies lab. By this spring the partnership had all-but fizzled out.
The Ford Fusions are fitted with nearly two-dozen cameras, lasers and sensors to make sense of the surroundings and they can accelerate, brake, steer and perform other basic functions according to the report. They can revert back to full control of a driver if they are encounter a challenge such as another car swerving towards it or if it identifies something unfamiliar.
Bares said the research lab is also working on the challenge of how the cars can work in rain and snow. Uber said in a blog post:
"Real-world testing is critical to our efforts to develop self-driving technology. Self-driving cars have the potential to save millions of lives and improve quality of life for people around the world. 1.3m people die every year in car accidents – 94 per cent of those accidents involve human error. In the future we believe this technology will mean less congestion, more affordable and accessible transportation, and far fewer lives lost in car accidents."
The UK is moving fast to keep up with the developments made by US companies, with the government announcing plans this week in the Queen's Speech to support its development, while the public will soon get to test out the cars for themselves in trials in Greenwich.