Self-driving taxis are in the middle-to-distant future, right? Er… no. Not for Uber, anyway, which plans to start testing out several self-driving Volvo XC90 vehicles on actual passengers later on this month. Don’t get too excited, though, as the tests will be taking place in one American city – Pittsburgh.
Uber is going to be adding the handful of Volvo SUVs to their vehicle pool in Pittsburg and these modified cars will be picking up and delivering passengers. It’s not going to be possible to specifically request one, however, as they will be assigned at random. Folks who find themselves confronted with a self-driving Volvo won’t be charged for the trip. They’re helping Uber test things out, after all.
Passengers won’t have to sign a waiver or anything, as there will still be an actual human being in the driver’s seat. The ‘driver’ just won’t be driving, unless the autonomous systems need help. A second person will be accompanying the driver, to keep track of how the vehicle is doing. This co-pilot will also be responsible for explaining to passengers just what the heck is going on, in addition to a tablet in the back seat that will point out that their driver is mostly there to keep an eye on things.
Uber is using the XC90 as a test-bed because of a $300 million deal that the company signed with Volvo for the development of an autonomous vehicle. Investments in its own global mapping system suggest that they don’t want to be dependent on anyone else at all, and the recent purchase of Otto, a company that was working on a way to make autonomous trucks, just reinforces that suggestion.
Uber believers that a transition to driverless cars will eventually drop costs for a pickup to cheaper levels than would be possible with a human driver. What sort of changes we can expect from the company in future aren’t wholly clear yet but a global self-driving fleet (and a licensing of their tech to other companies) isn’t out of the question.