Later this month, Uber will allow customers in Pittsburgh to hail self-driving cars using their smartphones. This is a huge milestone in the field of autonomous vehicles that no other technology company has achieved. Albeit Google, Telsa, and Ford have their own respective projects for self-driving cars, Uber is the first to bring the new technology to the public.
According to Bloomberg, Uber’s Pittsburgh fleet of self-driving cars will be supervised with humans in the driver’s seat. The car itself is a specially modified Volvo XC90 fitted with cameras, lasers, and radar. Volvo has provided a handful of these vehicles and has a total of a hundred due for the end of the year. Both Uber and Volvo spent $300 million to develop the self-driving car to be road-ready by 2021 (although it’s going live with human supervision this month).
Last month, Uber acquired driverless truck startup, Otto. A team of 91 employees, Otto includes talent from tech giants such as Google, Apple, and Telsa, all of which are keen on bringing self-driving cars to market. Bloomberg sources say that Otto is worth one percent of Uber’s most recent valuation, putting the recently-acquired startup at $680 million. That’s a huge chunk considering Otto was founded earlier this year.
Whereas Google, Tesla, and Ford have plans to manufacture their own self-driving cars, Uber has no intention to do so. Instead, the company will pitch deals with automakers, like Volvo. Developing its own LIDAR (it’s like radar but with light) for self-driving cars, Otto will help Uber along the way.
Pittsburgh customers will be able to summon the newly-christened self-driving cars as they normally would with a human-driven Uber. You open the app, tap your destination, request an Uber, and voila. The self-driving Uber rides will be free at the moment, so customers won’t have to fork over $1.30 per mile. Kalanick tells Bloomberg that prices for self-driving rides will drop so low that it’ll be cheaper than a private car. Unlike most automakers seeing self-driving cars as a devastating blow to their long-lasting business model, Volvo views “it as an opportunity.”
As the self-driving Ubers roll out later this month, expect customers’ videos showing off the autonomous vehicle technology to surface.