Ridesharing service provider Uber continues to be one of the driving forces behind the development of driverless vehicles. They recently took this a step further in developing ALMONO – essentially a manufactured city built on the grounds of an old steel mill in Pittsburgh.
Complete with roaming mannequins, road signs, traffic lights, roundabouts, fake cars, simulated buildings, and lane markers, the fake city is where the company's robocars will learn how to navigate on actual city streets safely.
Currently taking up 42 acres, Uber is looking to add another 13,000 square feet onto the test track as soon as possible. The site is a vital part of a program that trains vehicle operators on how to properly use an autonomous vehicle, as current plans still have a human in the Uber driver seat.
The three-week program allows these operators to practice on the ALMONO test track before they’re allowed to operate in certain areas of Pittsburgh. Neither the cars nor the operators leave ALMONO until they've successfully passed a series of written and driving tests. These checks are crucial, as some beta testing has seen safety issues arise due to the car’s inability to correct human errors.
The ALMONO site is an interesting story in and of itself, as it was once a vast industrial hub synonymous with Pittsburgh’s steel-working roots. During its peak, more than 12,000 people worked at plants on the site, but by 1997, all manufacturing had ceased, and the surrounding Hazelwood neighborhood had seen its population cut in half.
In 1999, efforts began to revitalize the area, with plans now in place to leverage the appeal of a waterfront location, a street grid that’s already in place, and a massive brown space that is suited for manufacturing and residential development.
The city hopes that the presence of high-tech companies like Uber can help draw similar companies to the area.