Uber has officially announced its plans to launch self-driving cars in collaboration with Volvo and tech startup Otto. The taxi app bought the latter recently in order to boost its ambitions in the hotly contested sector.
According to Bloomberg, Uber’s self-driving cars are coming out as soon as later this month. If true, it means the company has beaten tech giants like Google and Apple to the punch when it comes to a commercial rollout. It’s going to allow customers in downtown Pittsburgh to call autonomous cars via their handsets, just like a regular cab from its fleet.
However, the report points out that these rides will be supervised by people in the driver’s seat for now. The service is likely to be free when it debuts. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick thinks travelling in a driverless taxi will ultimately be cheaper than a private car when it comes to per-mile cost of commuting, even for long trips in rural areas.
Uber is utilizing a specially modified Volvo XC90 SUV for its initial commercial run. The vehicle has been fitted with a number of sensors which take advantage of cameras, radar, GPS and lasers to get things done. This is apparently just the beginning, with the two supposedly planning to spend over $300 million to work on a completely self-sufficient car which will supposedly be road-ready by 2021.
Uber is eventually looking to partner up with different automakers in the long run and develop kits for other cars. This sets the venture apart from Google’s own autonomous vehicle project since the search major is preparing to manufacture its own automobiles. The ride-hailing app also plans to put Otto’s experience in self-driving trucks to good use through plans for an Uber-esque service for long-haul trucking.
Now that it’s going commercial, Uber’s self-driving goals will have to face public scrutiny over safety measures. Tesla went through a severe backlash when a driver died earlier this year while using its Autopilot feature. The taxi aggregator will have to prove its cars are safe on the streets before people willingly take the leap to riding in a cab without a driver.