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A first look at Uber's car for self-driving research

A first look at Uber's car for self-driving research

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True to form, Uber isn't being shy about its work developing self-driving cars. In February, the company announced its plans to create autonomous vehicles, and now, one of its research cars has been seen cruising the streets of Pittsburgh. The vehicle — spotted by the Pittsburgh Business Times — has the words "Uber Advanced Technologies Center" splashed across one side, and what looks to be a box of electronic components on the roof.

The Pittsburgh Business Times notes that the device at the very top of the car was rotating, suggesting that it's a LIDAR sensor being used to map the immediate surroundings. The device has an identical profile to LIDAR components deployed in Google's self-driving vehicles but looks completely different to the equipment seen on the so-called Apple car.

"This vehicle is part of our early research efforts."

Uber, however, wants to be clear that this particular vehicle isn't autonomous. "This is not a self-driving test car," said an Uber spokesperson in a statement given to The Verge. "This vehicle is part of our early research efforts regarding mapping, safety and autonomy systems." So, while this car is being used to research "autonomy systems," it's not a vehicle in which you'd be safe falling asleep at the wheel.

As reported by The Verge earlier this week, Uber's plans to build a self-driving car in Pittsburgh have so far been supported by borrowing engineering talent from the city's Carnegie Mellon University's robotics center. The company has set up its own research center in a "strategic partnership" with CMU, and has announced plans to lease a 53,000 square foot facility to carry out its work. While not much more than this is known about Uber's research, the endgame for the company looks pretty clear. As of the end of 2014, Uber was employing some 160,000 drivers. Replacing these with self-driving vehicles would not only be safer, but would also eliminate the company's top expense.