As car manufacturers race to become the number one name in autonomous vehicles, Uber has made a landmark announcement: they’ll be rolling out self-driving cars in a matter of weeks. Launching in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, by the end of August 2016, a fleet of custom Volvo XC90 SUVs will hit the downtown area, where nearly 15,000 residents live, and even more work.
“Starting later this month, Uber will allow customers in downtown Pittsburgh to summon self-driving cars from their phones, crossing an important milestone that no automotive or technology company has yet achieved,” confirms a spokesperson from Uber to the BBC.
The choice of Pittsburgh as a testing ground is part of Uber’s self-driving strategy: “Near the end of 2014, Uber co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick flew to Pittsburgh on a mission: to hire dozens of the world’s experts in autonomous vehicles. The city is home to Carnegie Mellon University’s robotics department, which has produced many of the biggest names in the newly hot field,” explains Bloomberg Business Week.
“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 [£0.98] per mile,” the company’s spokesperson continues to the BBC. The cars dispatched in this pilot will, however, have a driver onboard, supervising in case of emergency.
“Both Uber and Volvo will use the same base vehicle for the next stage of their own autonomous car strategies,” said Volvo on the matter. “This alliance places Volvo at the heart of the current technological revolution in the automotive industry,” says Hakan Samuelsson, president and chief executive of Volvo.
Many commentators and analysts were surprised by the announcement, suggesting that this development is a blow to Google’s self-driving car project, as well as Tesla’s – both of which made headlines this year due to road collisions. Others worry about its impact on the one million drivers which rely on their role as Uber drivers across the world, and the sharing economy the company has pioneered globally.