Ride-hailing service Uber plans to launch a small fleet of autonomous vehicles onto the streets of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in a few weeks, the company said late August.
But the self-driving cars and SUVs will be monitored by human drivers, ready to intervene if the technology fails or ‘requests assistance’ in challenging situations, such as when navigating a construction zone.
The vehicles will be integrated into Uber’s regular web-based taxi-hailing service, and passengers will be notified of the self-driving technology in their ride before disembarking, explains Bloomberg.
Communication between passengers and the development drivers is forbidden, as Uber maintains that it’s important to familiarize passengers with a driverless experience–an essential element of its long-term driverless ride-sharing business model.
In exchange for riding along in a development vehicle, the patron will be given a free ride to their requested destination.
Uber has been aggressively head-hunting for the best minds in the field of autonomous vehicle development, and securing strategic partnerships.
Volvo has partnered with Uber and will provide its XC90 SUV as a development vehicle for Uber’s driverless vehicle car-sharing platform, though the partnership is not exclusive, and Uber will likely partner with additional car companies.
Uber also struck a deal to purchase Otto–a driverless commercial truck tech start-up. Otto’s founding members were among those spearheading Google’s autonomous car development; thus, Uber’s acquisition of Otto is significant in terms of human resources.
It’s not lost on us that Uber has chosen Volvo SUVs to be among the initial fleet of development vehicles, given that Volvos have long been lauded as extremely safe vehicles, and SUVs are also perceived to have a safety advantage over cars, given their larger mass and crumple zones.
Swaying public perception in favour of driverless vehicles will take time and effort, but stakeholders in the autonomous car industry, including Google, Tesla and Uber, insist that autonomous car technology will soon provide safer transportation than human drivers are capable of.
(Bloomberg with photo via Uber)