It has been a while since news broke in early 2015 that Uber was working on self-driving cars. Earlier this year, the company openly admitted it was testing cars in Pittsburgh but we have not heard much more over the last 18 months. Google, the self-driving car leader, has been grabbing much of the autonomous car attention so you’d be forgiven for thinking Uber’s efforts were far behind.
It turns out Uber has been making very rapid progress on its plan to replace its one million-plus drivers with computers. Bad news if you’re an Uber driver… And more bad news, if you are a taxi driver. In an interview with Bloomberg, CEO Travis Kalanick revealed that the company is preparing to add self-driving cars to its fleet of active drivers in Pittsburgh as soon as this month.
The company will deploy around 100 modified Volvo XC90s outfitted with self-driving equipment. Each vehicle will be staffed by one engineer, who can take the wheel if needed, and a co-pilot to observe and take notes on how it drives. There will also be a “liquid-cooled” computer sitting in the trunk recording trip and map data for Uber headquarters.
That will mean that regular Uber users in the city have a chance of getting an autonomous car for their ride — and their trip will be free if they choose to take it! Little was known of Uber’s plans for self-driving cars, but the company told Bloomberg that it will outfit cars with autonomous driving kits rather than develop its own vehicles as Google is trying to do. To do that, Uber has quietly snapped up Otto, a promising startup that launched this year to bring self-driving technology to trucks. Otto’s technology can be fitted to existing trucks, and, according to Bloomberg, the technology will be adapted to create a lidar — laser detection — system to power autonomous Uber vehicles.
Time will tell how this move plays out. It sure seems like autonomous cars are the future. The question is, are we ready for them?
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