Tesla Motors and Google are the two companies most think of when it comes to self-driving cars. However, relatively young upstart, Uber has taken a quantum leap as it plans to deploy self-driving cars on public roads in the next couple of weeks.
Uber is reportedly working with Volvo to launch a fleet of sensor-equipped XC90 SUVs, which will be outfitted with self-driving tech in Pittsburg. Volvo will build the base cars and Uber will overlay them with its own autonomous driving technology. Håkan Samuelsson, President and CEO at Volvo observes that “we are very proud to be the partner of choice for Uber, one of the world’s leading technology companies. This alliance places Volvo at the heart of the current technological revolution in the automotive industry”.
How did Uber manage to build self-driving cars ahead of Tesla and Google?
Two years ago, Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick outlined a plan to get into the self-driving car business. Most folks thought the plan was focused on the future because the consensus in the tech industry is that self-driving cars are still a decade away from going mainstream. However, Kalanick wasn’t joking about building self-driving cars.
He said, “the minute it was clear to us that our friends in Mountain View were going to be getting in the ride-sharing space, we needed to make sure there is an alternative [self-driving car]. … Because if there is not, we’re not going to have any business… Developing an autonomous vehicle is basically existential for us.”
Uber had a compelling reason to build self-driving cars but it lacked the technical skills and the manufacturing capability to build them. Therefore, Kalanick paid $680M to buy a self-driving truck firm called Otto. Interestingly, Kalanick bought Otto for its technology and not for its self-driving trucks. Now, the firm is leveraging its Otto self-driving technology to partner with automakers to create a fleet of self-driving Uber taxis.
Uber beats Google and Tesla to self-driving cars for consumers
Neither Tesla nor Google has been able to get its self-driving tech in the public domain with much a success. Tesla’s Autopilot is on public roads but it is not fully autonomous and it has come under much scrutiny lately after it was involved in a couple of crashes – one of the crashes was fatal. Google’s self-driving car is still being tested in 3 U.S. cities and no one outside the firm knows when the cars will be able on the market.
A statement from a Uber spokesperson holds that “Starting later this month, Uber will allow customers in downtown Pittsburgh to summon self-driving cars from their phones, crossing an important milestone that no automotive or technology company has yet achieved… In Pittsburgh, customers will request cars the normal way, via Uber’s app, and will be paired with a driverless car at random. Trips will be free for the time being, rather than the standard local rate of $1.30 [£0.98] per mile.”