The Steel City is about to get a whole new perspective on its historic industry. Rideshare company Uber is debuting a fleet of self-driving vehicles in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The event is a strategic way for Uber to position itself as one of the first businesses to commercialize self-driving vehicle technology.
In light of this development, other car manufacturers are investing massive resources into research and partnerships that can help them stay competitive in the era of self-driving vehicles.
Uber Plans Testing Self-Driving Cars in Pittsburgh
Driverless technology has breathed new competitive life into the car industry. Software companies like Google and Apple (who are seeking to partner with car manufacturers) are pushing the edge of possibility with software development for sophisticated driver assistance and collision avoidance features, while automakers from Tesla to Toyota are investing billions into research and development to get self-driving cars on the road.
Now Uber, pioneer of the popular ride-share service, is entering the arena. In a move planned by CEO Travis Kalanick since 2014, Uber will debut a fleet of self-driving vehicles to transport the app users around Pittsburgh. By the end of August, Uber customers in downtown Pittsburgh will be able to select self-driving cars (as opposed to privately owned cars chauffeured by their owners).
Back in 2014, Kalanick began working with dozens of robotics experts, engineers and mechanics from Carnegie Mellon University to work on this new direction for his company. Kalanick’s stated goal is to replace Uber’s global driver force—upwards of 1 million strong—with self-driving vehicles.
Uber is working with Volvo motor company on the venture. The company has outfitted their Volvo XC90 sport-utility model with cameras, lasers, radar, and GPS receivers to sense and respond to traffic. By the end of the year, Uber plans to have 100 of these souped-up Volvos on the road in Pittsburgh.
The initial fleet of driverless Uber cars will be “supervised” by human drivers. In the meantime, Uber and Volvo are devoting $300 million to getting a fully self-driving vehicle on the road by 2021. Pittsburgh Uber customers who request cars on Uber’s phone-based app will not choose whether or not they want a ride with an autonomous car—the pairing will be random. However, if a customer does end up with an autonomous car, their trip will be free of charge (as opposed to the local rate of $1.05 per mile).
Aside from breaking barriers in technology, Uber’s objective with this self-driving vehicle venture is to make it even easier for people to get around by phasing out the need for people to own a car or even have a driver’s license. Kalanick predicts that over the long-term, Uber’s prices will fall so low that it will be cheaper to take an Uber than to ride in your own car.
Uber Acquires Self-Driving Big Rig Startup, Otto
Uber’s partnership with Volvo is just one iron in the fire. Last July, Uber acquired a driverless truck startup that was launched in the beginning of 2016. Known as Otto, this driverless trucking company caught Uber’s attention by developing a kit that allows big-rig trucks to steer themselves on highways. This technology combats driver fatigue while helping trucking companies increase efficiency.
Originally founded by key members of Google’s self-driving vehicle engineering team who were impatient to get their product on the road, Otto trucks have already successfully completed rounds on the highways near San Francisco. Otto trucks will be used to build on Uber’s developing intracity delivery services, such as UberEats. They will also incorporate aspects of Otto’s standout technology, such as its signature laser detection system (or “lidar”), into the ride-share cabs.
Ford Unveils Plans for a Fleet of Self-Driving Taxi’s
As Uber prepares to make this seminal move, other technology and automaker companies are lining up for their shot. General Motors bought a stake in Lyft, Uber’s main rival in the ride-share industry, and announced plans to have driverless cars in test phase within a year.
And Ford Motor Company held a recent news conference where chief executive Mark Fields made known the company’s intention to mass-produce driverless cars for a self-driving taxi service to be launched by 2021.
“If someone had told you 10 years ago, or even five years ago, that the CEO of a major automaker American car company is going to be announcing the mass production of fully autonomous vehicles, they would have been called crazy or nuts or both,” said Fields. “…there’s going to be no steering wheel. There’s going to be no gas pedal. There’s going to be no brake pedal.”
In addition to doubling its workforce at its Palo Alto research facility, Ford has acquired an Israeli start-up called Saips that specializes in computer vision, one of the anchor technologies for self-driving vehicles. This investment, he said, changes Ford from merely a carmaker to a “mobility company.”
In perhaps the biggest statement of the obvious in recent history, Fields added, “The world is changing, and it’s changing rapidly.” This promises to be an interesting year as Silicon Valley takes on Detroit.
If you live in a municipal area of any size—from major urban center to small country town—you’ve probably seen them. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people pacing slowly in all directions, their heads bent over their phones.
At first, the spectacle may have startled or confused you, but by now you probably know exactly what they are doing: playing Pokemon Go.
Ever since its release earlier this summer, this smartphone app-based game has taken the world by storm, mobilizing billions of players all over the world to get outside and see if they can find the digital monsters hiding around their neighborhood.
However, as the game’s popularity has grown, so has its potential to endanger public safety. The mounting number of incidents involving distracted outdoor gamers has engendered a new meme: the Pokemon Go accident.
Pokemon Go Car Accidents
While it might sound funny that the Pokemon cartoon is the main factor for causing a spike in newsworthy accidents, many of the accidents are really no laughing matter. Pokemon Go players are getting into outrageously dangerous situations such as walking off the sides of cliffs to being easy prey for getting robbed and beaten, but what is especially concerning is the number of Pokemon Go motor vehicle accidents. Below are some car accidents that made it to the news. Fortunately, there are no fatalities yet associated with Pokemon Go.
One recent Pokemon Go incident involved a 15-year-old girl in Tarentum, Pennsylvania. Directed by the game, the girl crossed a busy highway without looking for cross traffic. She was struck by an oncoming car and suffered injuries to her collarbone and foot, along with several cuts and bruises. Both the girl and her mother afterward told reporters that they blame the game for her injuries.
Another Pokemon Go auto accident took place in the upstate New York community of Auburn. When police arrived at an accident scene where a car had veered off the road and crashed into a tree, the driver admitted that he had been playing Pokemon Go behind the wheel.
A similar Pokemon Go crash in Baltimore, Maryland was even caught on camera in real time. While a few off-duty policemen were standing and chatting together on the street, an SUV veered off the road and violently sideswiped one of their squad cars. With one of the officers’ body-cams still running, the group of policemen ran down the block to where the SUV had come to a stop. The driver got out with his head hanging and his hands held up; in one of them was his smartphone with the Pokemon Go game still in play.
Gotta Catch ’Em All
As the number of Pokemon Go accidents continue to mount, law enforcement officials are discovering a new meaning to the game’s catchphrase “Gotta catch ’em all” as they attempt to educate (or perhaps re-educate) the public on the dangers of distracted driving.
Pokemon Go players would be wise to catch themselves and exercise caution and common sense before endangering their own lives and those of their neighbors merely for the sake of winning points in a mobile video game. The charms of the augmented reality world are not worth risking the true reality of human beings’ health and freedom.
If you, your friends or family are one of the many Pokemon Go enthusiasts who has spent the summer trying to catch ’em all, do yourself and your community a favor by making safety a priority. No amount of points in the game is worth a life-altering injury to yourself or someone else. Moreover, no court is likely to view “Pokemon Go distraction” as a good excuse for breaking the law or causing personal injury to someone else.
Bottom line: use common sense, be aware of your surroundings, and don’t drive while distracted.
As the Alabama heat begins to break, residents of Birmingham slowly revive from the lazy days of summer and look forward to the coming season. Along with cooler mornings and relenting humidity, the air is charged with the excitement of going back to school.
School’s Back in Session
Birmingham students are officially going back to school. While our city’s roads are busy all year round, the onset of the school year means an increase in traffic, with particular congestion during the morning and afternoon hours. This new level of traffic brings a heightened need for awareness, care and preparation in order to keep our students safe.
At the law firm of Pittman, Dutton & Hellums, we work hard to protect the rights of Birmingham residents. Along with representing victims of car accident and personal injury, our goal is to help our community by promoting safe driving habits that prevent injuries from happening. And nowhere is it more important to prevent injury than in school zones full of children.
We have put together a list of safe driving tips to help every Birmingham driver stay on the right side of the law and protect our local students. By following the safe driving tips below, we can all do our part to make sure that Birmingham’s students are able to pursue a bright future.
Back to School Safety Tips for Drivers
Give yourself extra time
During the school year, a vast number of drivers are joining traffic at roughly the same time of day. Between the parents dropping off and picking up their kids, teachers and administrators getting to work, school buses pulling up to the curb, and students rushing to class, there is a frenzy of activity packed into the space of an hour.
This extra activity almost definitely means a delay for those commuting at this time of day.
Put down the phone
Distracted driving always poses a deadly risk. Add children into the mix, with their quick and unpredictable movements, and you could have a disaster on your hands in less time than it takes to get a text message. Safe driving around schools necessitates a “no phone, no matter what” policy.
Watch your blind spots
Entering school grounds should provoke an instant reaction to decrease your speed and increase your awareness. Primary schools are surrounded by children who can move quickly and unpredictably, while high schools are thick with teen drivers who need a lot more “cushion.” As a more experienced driver, it is up to you to keep an eye on your blind spots and go the extra mile to ensure everyone’s safety.
Come to a complete stop at stop signs
No matter how late you are, there is no excuse for rolling stops, especially in a school zone. Also, remember that it is illegal in all 50 states to pass a school bus with its flashers or stop sign on display.
Tips for Parents & Students
Stay on the sidewalk
In 2010, nearly 20 percent of children killed in traffic accidents were pedestrians. If your child is 10 years old or younger, make sure they know to remain on the sidewalk and not meander into the street. By staying close to an adult or within a large group, they can also be better protected from being struck by careless drivers.
Use crosswalks and listen to crossing guards
Make sure children not only know how to cross the street by stopping at the curb and looking left-right-left for traffic before crossing, but also understand that they must obey crossing guards even if they think it is safe to cross. Set a good example by following these safety procedures yourself; it can help your child develop good safety habits.
Put your phone down
Pokemon Go can wait. So can that text message from your friends. When it’s time to cross the road or board the school bus, put away your phone and focus on getting to your destination safely before you resume using it.
For parents, designating a pick-up and drop-off spot with your child can be an essential safety measure. An accident can occur if your child is reading your text message while he or she is trying to navigate busy school grounds. If you have to contact your children, do it ahead of time and remind them not to use their phone when crossing the street.
Be observant of bicyclists
No list of back-to-school safe driving tips would be complete without a word about bicycles. With bicycle use growing in urban areas all over the country, drivers need to be prepared to share the road with bicyclists, even if there isn’t a bike lane. If your child is riding their bike to school, emphasize the importance of wearing a helmet. It is also essential to teach your child how to use hand signals while on a bike and to train him/her to scan ahead for cars that are backing out or about to open doors.
By observing these back to school driving tips, we can all make sure that Birmingham students have a safe and productive school year.