How Will Pittsburgh Embrace an Autonomous Future?

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【Summary】Uber’s prime location of testing, Pittsburgh, has seen jobs individuals lose their jobs over self-driving machines and some new jobs be made, as well. A report by The Incline dives into how individuals in Pittsburgh are affected by driverless cars.

Original   Vineeth Joel Patel  ·  Oct 08, 2017 11:15 AM PT
author: Vineeth Joel Patel   

Pittsburgh has become a hub for companies wanting to test their self-driving vehicles. Uber has been in the "Steel City" since 2014 and started to test autonomous vehicles in the area two years after landing in the city in the later half of 2016. Uber's goal, is to perfect its self-driving system in a demanding city that sees different types of weather, various amounts of traffic, and has items, like pedestrians, bicyclists, and more, which pose a challenge to the system. 

If Uber's driverless vehicles can work in Pittsburgh, then they can work in other large cities. But there's another side to autonomous vehicles that Uber hasn't explored – what happens to the company's drivers and other blue-collar workers in the state.  

How Uber Affects Pittsburgh's Workforce?

In a lengthy report, The Incline looked into the affect Uber is having on the city's workforce. The article starts out with an anecdote behind one of Uber's drivers, Lisa Franklin-Robinson. Franklin-Robinson, who grew up in the area, is called to a home she used to frequent where she is picking up an Uber employee who recently got hired to help the ride-hailing company improve its autonomous program. 

"He's looking at me like, ‘How does this little black woman know my house?'" said Franklin-Robinson. "And now he's asking me questions about the house, because he hadn't lived there that long." While Franklin-Robinson didn't question her rider on the progress that Uber's making in the city, she hoped the one-on-one connection she made with him left a lasting impression for the rider. 

"I don't know how much conversation meant or what influence he has on any of this, but that in and of itself should make him see that the personal factor is important," Franklin-Robinson said. "This is what I think they're missing with their self-driving cars," she said. "There's more to transportation than just getting from one place to another." 

Franklin-Robinson may have a point. Every time I use Uber, I find myself talking to the driver, getting cool facts about the city, new restaurants to try, or simply shooting the breeze. Autonomous cars may help the company make more money, but there's something comforting about having a human driver to interact with. 

Uber Pittsburgh.jpg

Uber Has Brought Jobs To The City

Uber drivers and other individuals in the city aren't the only ones that are concerned with the rise of self-driving vehicles in Pittsburgh, as The Incline reports that Mayor William Peduto criticized Uber for not creating more partnerships with community organizations. The increase of autonomous vehicles, though, has brought numerous positions to Pittsburgh. 

As The Incline reports, Uber and other companies' need to test vehicles in the city has created multiple "high-skilled engineering positions" and even some full-time positions for individuals that are interested in acting as a co-pilot for driverless machines. While that's good news, those aren't necessarily blue-collar jobs, which is what that majority of the workforce in Pittsburgh is. And The Incline believes that the jobs Uber is making could widen the gap between the wealthy and the poor, as more well-to-do tech engineers push lower-income families out. 

The thought of that process happening is quite familiar for some, including Laura Wiens, director of the advocacy group Pittsburghers for Public Transit, claims The Incline. "I feel like we're barreling headlong into something similar," Wiens said. 

Uber Isn't The Only Company Testing Cars In Pittsburgh

While The Incline claims that Uber's vehicles are some of the most obvious self-driving machines on the road, other cars from companies including Delphi, Argo AI, and Aurora Innovation are circling the city. That's a lot of companies to compete in a specific area. But, as The Incline reports, it's difficult to nail down exactly how many self-driving vehicles are in the area as Peduto claims that the companies are "very cryptic about total numbers." 

The companies are clearly growing though, as they continue to add jobs to the city. Uber, as the outlet claims, added approximately 700 employees to its arsenal earlier this February and posted an additional 100 jobs soon after. Argo AI is reportedly looking to hire more employees, as well, as the outlet claims that it wants to hire 200 more people for three of its locations, one of which includes the headquarters in Pittsburgh by the end of 2017. Delphi will also hire another 100 employees by the middle of 2018. 

Uber Pittsburgh 3.jpg

What Kind Of Jobs Are Available?

A few of the open positions are for "vehicle operators," claims The Incline. The position, according to the report, would see two vehicle operators sit in the front seats of Uber's vehicles – one would have to be ready to take control of the car at any point, while the other would record data on a laptop. While a vehicle operator wouldn't require individuals to get an advanced degree, the other positions do. 

The other positions, unfortunately, require individuals to have a degree in hardware engineering or software design. As The Incline claims, Uber has 56 job openings and only one of those is for a vehicle operator. "It looks like most of its engineers, not many drivers," said Justin Zhen, co-founder of Thinknum. "There's really only a handful." 

Despite all of the available information, Peduto believes that autonomous vehicles will create more jobs for everyone. "The competition for these jobs are not only at the Ph.D. level, but the drivers themselves," said Peduto. 

While Peduto can continue to hope that self-driving companies will create jobs that blue-collar workers are qualified for, that's not going to happen. The Incline reports that Uber will decrease the number of vehicle operator positions to just one per vehicle, as the company looks to make progress on its fully driverless vehicles. With the move to reduce the number of entry-level jobs by 50 percent, that only leaves the P.h.D level positions. 

And it's not just jobs that are affected by the city's move to adopt self-driving machines, as Pittsburgh itself has changed. The Incline claims that the city's Strip District, which was once known for its industrial past, has gone through a modern revitalization and now has a new section called "robotics row" that is home to Uber and Argo AI. 

The changes that Pittsburgh's going through will not only affect that city, but others as they look to embrace a driverless future. Blue collar jobs will disappear, as companies seek to hire engineers and developers with P.h.Ds. And the cities themselves will become more modern with new buildings, structures, and streets. In an attempt to become a leader, Pittsburgh could be turning its back on the city's history and low-income families. The price of going autonomous is clearly a steep one. 

via: The Incline

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