Only 3 months after its test fleet started hitting the streets of Pittsburgh, Uber announced today that it is rolling out a fleet of human-supervised self-driving cars available to customers by the end of the month. The company unveiled its modified Volvo XC90 SUV equipped with cameras, lidar, radar and GPS (pictured above).
A few will be in operation by the end of the month and a fleet of 100 by the end of the year.
Volvo and Uber confirmed a $300 million partnership to develop the self-driving technology. Volvo wrote in a press release today:
“The two companies have signed an agreement to establish a joint project that will develop new base vehicles that will be able to incorporate the latest developments in AD technologies, up to and including fully autonomous driverless cars. The base vehicles will be manufactured by Volvo Cars and then purchased from Volvo by Uber. Volvo Cars and Uber are contributing a combined USD 300M to the project.”
As mentioned, the first manifestation of the partnership is this new fleet in Pittsburgh. Bloomberg talked to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick about it:
“In Pittsburgh, customers will request cars the normal way, via Uber’s app, and will be paired with a driverless car at random. Trips will be free for the time being, rather than the standard local rate of $1.30 per mile. In the long run, Kalanick says, prices will fall so low that the per-mile cost of travel, even for long trips in rural areas, will be cheaper in a driverless Uber than in a private car.”
Here’s another picture of the modified Volvo XC90 SUV:
Uber’s partnership with Volvo is in no way exclusive and the ride-sharing company hopes to convince more automakers to work with them. They recently bought Otto, a self-driving tech startup aimed at the trucking industry, and they are looking to leverage the firm’s expertise to further improve its own self-driving tech.
Unlike Google’s self-driving effort, Uber is making the system available to customers, but like Google, the self-driving cars are being supervised by humans. Bloomberg talked to Raffi Krikorian, Uber’s engineering director, about the details:
“For now, Uber’s test cars travel with safety drivers, as common sense and the law dictate. These professionally trained engineers sit with their fingertips on the wheel, ready to take control if the car encounters an unexpected obstacle. A co-pilot, in the front passenger seat, takes notes on a laptop, and everything that happens is recorded by cameras inside and outside the car so that any glitches can be ironed out. Each car is also equipped with a tablet computer in the back seat, designed to tell riders that they’re in an autonomous car and to explain what’s happening. “The goal is to wean us off of having drivers in the car, so we don’t want the public talking to our safety drivers,” Krikorian says.”
Anthony Levandowski, co-founder of Otto and one of the founding member of Google’s self-driving car initiative, will take over the leadership of Uber’s self-driving car program in the coming weeks, after the acquisition of Otto is closed.
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