The people at ride-hailing app companies like Uber and Lyft have long dreamt of having vehicles that can shuttle humans around cities without the need of actual paying human drivers.
Uber is coming closer to that ambition quicker than anyone else now, as a fleet of autonomous Volvo XC90 SUVs will soon be deployed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania starting end of this month.
The 2 companies, Uber and Volvo announced a $300 million partnership to utilize the SUV fleet, all equipped with phone to take passengers where they want to go. The Uber-Volvo partnership is also the first of its kind for any traditional auto manufacturer or tech company.
There is one big catch however, for now the autonomous system on the XC90 SUVs, unlike conventional autonomous, will be supervised by human drivers.
Bloomberg Businessweek quoted Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, “the goal is to replace Uber’s more than 1 million human drivers with robot drivers as quickly as possible.”
While ‘robot drivers’ might not be ready just yet, and with high profile crashes linking to current autopilot systems, the Uber XC90s will require human supervision and intervention at the moment.
The SUVs, despite being modified to include a number of sensors, laser systems, cameras, radar and GPS so that they can fully-drive themselves, would still be supervised with engineers in the front seat, ready to take over just in case.
But why Pittsburgh, you may wonder? Pittsburgh is home to Uber’s Advanced Technologies Centre, paired with actual city driving challenges, bad weather and elevation changes, it is an ideal city to experiment with autonomous cars.