Uber customers in downtown Pittsburgh later this month will begin hopping into vehicles that can drive themselves to their destination.
The ride-hailing giant, which has been valued at more than $60 billion, also said Thursday it was partnering with Swedish automaker Volvo on a $300-million joint project to develop self-driving vehicles. And it said it bought a start-up that’s working on self-driving trucks.
Uber has been testing a handful of tech-laden Volvo SUVs in Pittsburgh, which is headquarters for the tech company’s nascent autonomous car research facility. Many of its staffers are former robotics experts from nearby Carnegie Mellon University, a self-driving car technology hotbed.
Volvo has so far delivered a handful of vehicles with self-driving tech to Uber, which expects to have upward of 100 such Volvos deployed in Pittsburgh by the end of the year. The cars will be staffed with safety drivers, per current transportation laws.
But the ultimate goal, often stated by Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, is to replace Uber drivers with autonomous vehicles, which will drive down the cost of each ride dramatically for consumers while increasing revenue for Uber.
Uber also announced it acquired startup Otto, which is working on self-driving trucks. Otto co-founder Anthony Levandowski will lead Uber’s combined self-driving initiatives.
In an interview with USA TODAY, Kalanick said the idea with Otto is to provide owner-operator long-haul truckers with in-car tech that will “help them maximize their asset,” by allowing the truck to operate 24 hours a day with autonomous spells during which the driver could sleep.
Competition is heating up in the race to develop the first commercial autonomous car, which until recently existed only in the realm of sci-fi novels and films. Uber’s news comes just days after Ford held a press conference at its R&D facility in Palo Alto to announce its intention to build fully autonomous cars by 2021, using a growing fleet of Ford Fusion Hybrids as test mules.
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SOURCE: USA Today, Brett Molina