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Uber’s driverless cars are ready for service

By Bryan Chan & Marcus Wong - on 23 Aug 2016, 9:46am

Uber’s driverless cars are ready for service


Weeks after selling off their China brand to Didi Chuxing for an estimated $35 billion, the Los Angeles Times reports that Uber is preparing a fleet of self-driving cars for service on the streets of Pittsburgh that will be ready in a matter of weeks.

Consisting of Volvos and Fords, the cars will have Uber employees at the wheel in case things go wrong, but Uber’s intention is to eventually go completely driverless. Uber would be the first service to transport commercial passengers in fully autonomous cars on public roadways.

Automotive manufacturers have long been pushing towards autonomous vehicles, with both Volvo and Ford placing 2021 as the year in which their first completely driverless cars will be ready. The first use cases for these cars with no steering wheel, no accelerator pedal and no brake pedal? 

Ride-sharing and ride-hailing. i.e. the exact services Uber provides. So it’s no surprise really that Uber is pushing aggressively towards partnerships with the two companies. Uber says it will pick select customers to volunteer for the self-driving service, and that the rides will be free. However, it did not specify how many customers, and how many cars will be in the trials, nor did it state if the service will be expanded beyond Pittsburg.

According to The Wall Street Journal, autonomous vehicles are necessary to lower the cost of ride hailing and ownership, even if it means the potential loss of up to 1.5 million Uber divers worldwide.  

Travis Kalanick, Uber's Chief Executive Officer said “The technology is going to happen because the promise is so real… It’s existential. We have to have all the best minds working on this.”

Apart from self-driving cars, Uber also seems poised to enter the motor freight business with the acquisition of Otto, a driverless trucking company technology start-up in San Francisco. They’ve also tried their hand at logistics with the launch of lunch delivery service UberEats in 2014 and on-demand courier service UberRush last year, so it looks like the company is looking at improving mobility for all sorts of things, and not just passengers. 

Sources: Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal