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Why Pittsburgh Is Still The Center Of Self-Driving Car Technology

Megan Harris
90.5 WESA
Uber technicians sit an a self-driving Ford Fusion outside the Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh on September 13, 2016.

The San Francisco Chronicle published an article in July detailing why the Bay Area is the new king in self-driving automotive technology.

That rubbed Pittsburgh Tribune-Review technology reporter Aaron Aupperlee the wrong way. On this week’s Pittsburgh Tech Report, Aupperlee talked with 90.5 WESA’s Liz Reid about his rebuttal, laying out the five reasons why Pittsburgh is still, and has always been, the leader in self-driving car technology.

Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

LIZ REID: What motivated you to write this piece?

AARON AUPPERLEE: As a reporter in Pittsburgh and as a Pittsburgher, I was a little irked, because Pittsburgh is obviously the No. 1 place for self-driving cars. So I decided to challenge the Chronicle and the Bay Area with five reasons why I thought Pittsburgh was still No. 1 for self-driving cars.

REID: The Chronicle piece struck me as a little bit, like, “You guys, self-driving cars are a big deal,” and I feel like we’ve known that in Pittsburgh for years now.

AUPPERLEE: That’s the thing that sort of struck me, is they start the article with this image of a car driving down the street with the little whirling LIDAR on top and how that’s no big deal in San Francisco. Well, it’s been no big deal here for six months, eight months, we’ve had the self-driving Ubers on the streets for a year now, and yeah, I think self-driving cars in Pittsburgh are just a thing that’s out there and that we take for granted almost, but to the rest of the country I think it’s pretty amazing. So yeah, the fact that the Bay Area’s now saying, “Psshhh, this is no big deal.” Well yeah, it’s been no big deal in Pittsburgh for a while now.

REID: OK, so tell me your five reasons why Pittsburgh is till on top of the self-driving car game.

AUPPERLEE: No. 1 is we were first. Pittsburgh and researchers at Carnegie Mellon University had some of the first self-driving cars going back to the 80s. No. 2 is obviously Uber. Uber came here; Uber chose Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh has been a great testing ground for Uber. No. 3 is that Pittsburgh has the top talent. Between the people coming out of the University of Pittsburgh and CMU, those researchers are drawing major companies here to work on cars. No. 4 is that Pittsburgh is developing the support system for self-driving cars. It’s one thing just to put a LIDAR on top of a car and say it’s self-driving, but there’s a lot of moving parts, a lot of questions to be answered and Pittsburgh researchers are doing that. And No. 5 is the future. What’s next? Researchers at Pitt and CMU are already asking those questions, and what’s next is going to come out of the labs here.

REID: What has the response to your rebuttal article been like?

AUPPERLEE: People in Pittsburgh obviously have cheered it on and it’s gotten a lot of shares on social media. I have not heard from anyone in the Bay Area, I have not heard from anyone at the Chronicle, but I think they just know that, yeah, we schooled ‘em.

Liz Reid began working at WESA in 2013 as a general assignment reporter and weekend host. Since then, she’s worked as the Morning Edition producer, health & science reporter and as an editor.
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