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August 18, 2016

Uber will be launching a fleet of self-driving cars in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania—starting later this month.

Customers hailing a car from Uber’s app in downtown Pittsburgh will be assigned autonomous cars at random, which will initially include a human co-pilot in the vehicle to assist with obstacles the car might face, and to take notes on the ride.

When riders get into a self-driving car, there will be a tablet in the backseat to let them know. There will also be cameras installed to record the ride and catch any glitches.

Uber began road-testing the vehicles in Pittsburgh in May, and has yet to see any incidents or major malfunctions—though the company has found that the car does face some obstacles when it comes to crossing bridges.

The self-driving system utilizes detailed maps, which record roads, lane markings, buildings, potholes, parked cars, fire hydrants, and traffic lights. Data is constantly being collected as the car moves to allow it to recognize and avoid everything from cyclists and pets to pedestrians, but since bridges don’t tend to include very many of these cues—like buildings for example—the car can struggle to recognize them.

At the moment, the vehicles’ Global Positioning System sensors are only accurate within about 10 feet, though the company is working to try and get this number down to the inch.

While there are other companies like Google and Tesla Motors working with self-driving cars, Uber differs in two aspects: The company will be the first to be bring the product to a mass commercial market and is choosing to partner with various auto manufacturers for their vehicles instead of producing its own self-driving automobiles.

Partner companies include Volvo, with which Uber signed a $300-million deal to develop a fully self-driving car by 2021, as well as driverless truck startup Otto, which has long-haul trucking technology Uber will be integrating in the future to improve its delivery services.

Uber is also tapping into the data Otto collects to improve its self-driving mapping and navigation systems for its vehicles.

“Nobody has set up software that can reliably drive a car safely without a human...we are focusing on that,” Uber’s co-founder and CEO, Travis Kalanick said in an interview with Bloomberg.

The self-driving cars will be Volvo XC90 sport-utility vehicles, which will come equipped with sensors that utilize dozens of cameras, lasers, a radar, and GPS receivers to offer the service.

According to Bloomberg, Volvo is set to have 100 of these vehicles released by the end of the year, with Otto’s co-founder Anthony Levandowski taking leadership of Uber’s project once the company’s acquisition with Uber closes, which might be later this month.

Talia Avakian is a digital reporter at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter at @TaliaAvak.

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