Self-driving Volvo XC90 cars have entered into Uber’s taxi fleet, marking the first public ride-hailing test in the United States. The cars will be available to select customers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who will be able to ride in the cars for free.
Uber has been testing cars in Pittsburgh for over a year, after poaching most of the robotics team from Carnegie Mellon University. Earlier this year, it brought the self-driving system onto public roads.
A driver and analyst will be inside all autonomous cars to monitor the car’s decision making and take control if the system fails. An early test by Engadget suggests that the self-driving system is quite sophisticated, making a lot of the decisions by itself, although it allegedly had more issues with bridges.
It comes at a time when its main rival (and investor) Google is struggling to find a way to commercialize its own self-driving platform. The search giant has lost key executives, including Anthony Levandowski, who left to create Otto and now works at Uber, and Chris Urmson, one of the last core members of the project.
Uber not wanting to leap into hardware
Analysts are bullish on Uber’s chances in the self-driving world. It already has the largest ride-hailing platform in the world, and partnerships with Volvo mean it doesn’t need to build its own car.
That said, as the self-driving market heats up, Uber might struggle to purchase cars from Ford and General Motors, which may lower the amount of self-driving cars it can have on the road in the short term.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is on the hunt for self-driving cars, saying that if Tesla were to announce a fully autonomous car, it would snap up half a million in one day. A bit of a harrowing statement to Uber drivers.