Uber and Volvo are partnering on a $300m program to bring fully autonomous vehicles to our roads by 2021. This comes as Bloomberg reports the company’s self-driving fleet will be arriving Pittsburgh in the United States in September.
Here’s what both the Uber and Volvo CEOs had to say about the partnership;
The Volvo CEO said “Volvo is a world leader in the development of active safety and autonomous drive technology and possesses an unrivaled safety credibility. 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.”
Travis Kalanick, Uber’s chief executive, said: “Over one million people die in car accidents every year. These are tragedies that self-driving technology can help solve, but we can’t do this alone. That’s why our partnership with a great manufacturer like Volvo is so important. Volvo is a leader in vehicle development and best-in-class when it comes to safety. By combining the capabilities of Uber and Volvo we will get to the future faster, together.”
Uber doesn’t think it should build its self-driving cars but is rather leveraging on what manufactures are doing by installing its own kit(s) in them but whether they have such plans in the future is not clear at this point even as the company was recently reported to be acquiring self-driving truck startup Otto which was launched earlier this year by a team of ex-Googlers in San Francisco. According to the Bloomberg story which also covered this, the ride sharing giant is reportedly paying $680m for the startup and the value represent 1 percent of the current Uber value which is put at $68b.
Ford announced plans earlier this week to launch fully automated cars by 2021 while a similar announcement is expected from BMW soon.
As for Uber users in the city of Pittsburgh, for now, Uber’s test cars travel with safety drivers, as common sense and the law dictate. These professionally trained engineers sit with their fingertips on the wheel, ready to take control if the car encounters an unexpected obstacle. A co-pilot, in the front passenger seat, takes notes on a laptop, and everything that happens is recorded by cameras inside and outside the car so that any glitches can be ironed out. Each car is also equipped with a tablet computer in the back seat, designed to tell riders that they’re in an autonomous car and to explain what’s happening. The goal is to wean us off of having drivers in the car, so we don’t want the public talking to our safety drivers.
With respect to safety, let me add that Volvo has already pledged to build cars that will “virtually” eliminate car crash deaths by 2020 through the following ways;
Adaptive Cruise Control: Adaptive cruise control, which is already available on many new cars, uses radar and sometimes other sensors to detect vehicles on the road ahead. You set a maximum speed and then your car maintains a safe following distance on its own, operating the gas and the brakes for you. Some systems like this only work at highway cruising speeds, but many can work even in stop-and-go traffic.
Auto lane keeping assist: Cameras detect lane lines and road edges, and the car steers itself to stay in its lane.
Collision avoidance: Radar, cameras or other sensors detect obstacles ahead and warn the driver. If the driver still doesn’t react, the car can apply the brakes automatically to avoid, or at least reduce, the impact of a crash. In the United States, auto safety regulators have found this technology particularly effective in reducing crashes.
Pedestrian detection: Cameras, including ones that can see in the dark, are programmed to detect human forms that might wander into the path of the car. Drivers can be alerted and again, the car can brake automatically.
Large animal detection: Hitting a moose, deer or elk is definitely bad for the animal but it’s also very bad for a car’s passengers. Volvo has created a system that can detect when a big animal is walking in front of your car, saving both you and the absent-minded animal.
Could this be the real reason why Uber partnered with Volvo? Maybe, maybe not.