Automotive

Self-driving Ubers picking up passengers from later this month

Self-driving Ubers picking up ...
Self-driving Ubers come to Pittsburgh – with human drivers on board
Self-driving Ubers come to Pittsburgh – with human drivers on board
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Self-driving Ubers come to Pittsburgh – with human drivers on board
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Self-driving Ubers come to Pittsburgh – with human drivers on board
Uber has ordered 100 Volvos for its self-driving test in Pittsburgh
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Uber has ordered 100 Volvos for its self-driving test in Pittsburgh
Uber has acquired self-driving truck company Otto
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Uber has acquired self-driving truck company Otto

If you're ready to welcome in the era of self-driving cars in person, you may want to head to Pittsburgh later this month, smartphone in hand. Uber and Volvo have signed a deal to team up on developing autonomous driving technology, beginning with ferrying Uber customers around the Pennsylvania city.

Beginning later in August, it will be possible to use the Uber app to hail a ride from a self-driving Volvo XC90 in Pittsburgh. This will mark a pretty big first – Google and some automakers have been testing self-driving cars for years, and Tesla's Autopilot can essentially take over for a driver on the highway, but no one has yet offered a full door-to-door ride in an autonomous car to regular consumers.

It won't be a lone robot car pulling up to pick you up, though. A human driver will be in the driver's seat ready to take the wheel if anything goes wrong, as is currently required by law. Rides in a self-driving Uber will also be free for the time being.

The ridesharing company has been testing the technology at its Advanced Technology Center in Pittsburgh for many months already and competitor Lyft is pursuing similar ambitions with General Motors.

So far Volvo has delivered just a few cars to Uber, which then outfits them with its own autonomous driving system, including a number of sensors, cameras, lasers, radar, GPS and Uber's own in-house self-driving software. Volvo is also developing self-driving vehicles using the same base vehicle and its owns autonomous navigation system. The project relies on Volvo's modular auto production platform, which it calls Scalable Product Architecture (SPA).

Uber plans to have a test fleet of 100 self-driving Volvos roaming Pittsburgh's streets by the end of the year. It's all a big field test, with the end goal being a fully autonomous car model that will hit the market by 2021. Together, Uber and Volvo say they'll pour US$300 million into the development process.

Uber's self-driving vision isn't exclusive to the Volvo deal, however. Much of its previous testing in Pittsburgh was actually done using a Ford Fusion. The company has also announced its acquisition of self-driving truck startup Otto. Otto has been in existence only since January and makes a kit that can outfit any big rig to drive itself.

Uber has no plans to make self-driving cars itself, but it clearly hopes to be operating plenty of them within the next five years, just in time to compete with other autonomous ride-sharing aspirants, including the likes of companies that will be making their own, such as Ford.

Sources: Volvo, Bloomberg, Uber

6 comments
Mel Tisdale
It will be a different kettle of fish when the driver and observer are no longer present. Imagine rival football supporters playing at 'dodge ems!' with them. Talk about learning the hard way. One thing is for sure, It will be a long time before I come even close to one of these, let alone ride in one.
Wolf0579
Oh, Goody! Another way to throw more humans on the dust-pile, while concentrating the planet's wealth into fewer hands.
Milton
can't get here fast enough. But self-driving needs to ditch the ICE or we are all screwed.
OwkayeGo
The Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) has virtually no relationship with self-driving cars. And I don't think we are all 'screwed' by the ongoing use of ICE-powered cars ... Granted some people think electric cars are more efficient than cars powered by fossil fuels, but the electricity powering them is nearly always generated by burning fossil fuels 'somewhere else' -- such as in power plants. And getting that power to the electric car entails massive efficiency losses, so to my way of thinking ICE-powered cars are more efficient than electric cars. Until the required electricity is generated by wind or solar or nuclear, fossil fueled cars will continue to be more efficient than electric cars. That's all there is to it.
Daniel Harbin
To anyone who is a rideshare driver this concept has holes in it miles wide. What happens when the pax puts the pin in the wrong place or the path to where they are is wrong or confusing. The place is gated or has a guard. Its an apartment complex and only one gate works. I personally have been sent to a gate that was permanently shut where the open gate is in another location. In Las Vegas on the strip and in the casinos they only allow certain pickup points and often the pax is at the wrong pu. How will this system deal with street closures or roadwork? May questions.
Daishi
@OwkayeGo That's really not all there is to it. The grid uses cleaner sources than automobile ICE's so even with efficiency losses in transport electric cars are (already) still cleaner and that gap is growing as we continue to clean up the grid and more people run solar panels at home.