Every week seems to bring news about autonomous vehicles made by various companies hitting the roads in the “next few years.” But Uber’s getting the drop on its competitors by launching a fleet of self-driving taxis in Pittsburgh later this month, according to Bloomberg.
The self-driving Volvo XC90 sports utility vehicles will be randomly assigned to customers who order a ride using the Uber app. The law requires a human supervisor to be present in the driver’s seat, and there will be another person in the passenger seat taking notes on a laptop. The external sensors will record everything that happens during the ride on a “liquid-cooled” computer in the trunk.
Those sitting in the driving position will have to keep “their fingertips on the wheel.” Whenever the vehicle detects that they need to take full control, like when coming up to a bridge, a chime will sound. Pittsburgh authorities have already approved testing of the self-driving vehicles on its roads.
Trips in these vehicles will initially be free, rather than the usual rate of $1.30 per mile. CEO Travis Kalanick said the low per-mile cost of the cars will mean it’ll be cheaper to ride in a driverless Uber car than in a private car – and safer, too.
Uber is pouring a lot of resources into the autonomous car market; it bought Otto, a driverless truck startup founded by ex-Google engineers back in July. And just today a $300 million deal was announced between Volvo and the ride-hailing firm to develop a fully autonomous vehicle by 2021.
Only a handful of self-driving Volvos will initially be available to Uber customers, but 100 more are due by the end of the year.