Uber has been quietly working on research and development for its own self-driving cars, and the first units in its autonomous fleet will tool around the streets of Pittsburgh before the end of this month, according to a new report. Bloomberg broke the exciting news today, backed up by an interview with John Bares, who heads Uber’s autonomous car project at the company’s Advanced Technologies Center. The company aims to eventually replace its human drivers with a self-driving fleet that passengers can summon on demand through the smartphone app, just like always, but different.
Last spring, residents of Pittsburgh first spotted Uber’s research car, and the rideshare company finally confirmed its self-driving car project a few months ago. Later this month, Uber’s self-driving test fleet will hit the road with humans in the driver seat (both for safety and legality) and passengers will be able to use their smartphones to summon a ride like usual, without knowing whether they will be picked up in one of the new cars. Although Google, Tesla, Ford, and other companies have all been testing self-driving cars on the road, this may be the first time any company has invited the public to participate in the testing process.
Right now, the self-driving cars are factory Volvo XC90 models that have been retrofitted with sensors that use cameras, lasers, radar, and GPS receivers to control the vehicle’s driving mechanisms. Bloomberg reports that Volvo has delivered just a few of these modified SUVs so far, but will reach 100 by the end of the year. Volvo and Uber have apparently agreed to invest $300 million in developing a fully autonomous car by 2021.
Uber may source self-driving cars from other manufacturers, but little is known about whether the company has any deals in the works. For now, we’ll wait and see how the ridesharing company’s new self-driving prototypes perform in downtown Pittsburgh, and wonder which company will be next in line to put members of the public in the backseats of their own autonomous vehicles.
Images via Uber