Various news sources have reported sightings of Uber cars driving around town in the past week. That does not, however, mean they’re ferrying around passengers—or even planning on it.
According to a Friday Austin American-Statesman article, the Uber cars now roaming the streets are mapping the city to collect data for the development of driverless cars. While the “souped-up Ford Fusion[s],” as the Statesman calls them, do have drivers (human, even), Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center, located in Pittsburgh, Pa., sent out the fleet for research purposes only.
In doing so, Uber joined Google in using Austin’s streets as testing grounds of a sort for driverless cars, though Google’s cars are largely self-driven and have only backup “safety drivers” on board.
Other than mapping our streets, Uber has not stated publicly any interest in returning its business to Austin. The ride-hailing app, along with that of Lyft, left the city earlier this year after Uber and Lyft after losing an election on a proposal to repeal a city ordinance regulating drivers. The two companies spent approximately $10 million trying to get the proposal passed.