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Beverly Hills Developing Fleet of Robot Ubers

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The city is trying to create an on-demand ride system with self-driving cars

With all of the hype surrounding driverless car technology these days, it may have only been a matter of time before some small city with a bit of disposable income lying around decided to spring for a fleet of the autonomous vehicles to release into the streets. Well, now it's official: that city is Beverly Hills. Last week, the city council there voted to develop a program that would provide on-demand autonomous vehicles to passengers within city limits—like Uber, only with a robot instead of a human driver. The Verge reports that the city is now reaching out to companies like Tesla and Google to partner with in developing the (likely very expensive) ride system.

Beverly Hills Mayor John Mirisch speaks favorably about the project's potential to solve the "first/last mile" problem at the city's two Purple Line subway stations that will be opening in coming years. (Since the stations will not have parking lots, residents will have to find ways to get to and from the train without driving.) It's surprising to see the mayor of a city that hasn't exactly welcomed the Purple Line extension worrying about how to make stations more accessible. Then again, it's also surprising that the solution to this access problem that Beverly Hills has come up with is a fleet of automated cars operating on a ride-sharing model that already exists. It might be that public transportation gets a little sexier when it seems so damn futuristic.

But don't get us wrong—we're very excited to see the new robot cars cruising along Rodeo Drive. That is, when they arrive. As the Hollywood Reporter points out, the technology required to make this kind of program work may not actually exist yet. The most sophisticated self-driving cars available perform well in the less chaotic environment of a freeway, but often fail to recognize common obstacles in an urban area—like pedestrians. According to the Reporter, a model of the program will be on display at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Arts this coming fall. So maybe think twice about crossing Santa Monica Boulevard on that day.