Shortly after Uber and Volvo announced a joint venture, pooling $300 million to develop self-driving technologies, they announced Uber will allow customers in downtown Pittsburgh to summon self-driving, specially-outfitted Volvo XC90 cars from their phones.
Uber's fleet of self-driving vehicles will be supervised by humans in the driver's seat for the time being. The vehicles are outfitted with dozens of sensors that use cameras, radar, lidar and GPS receivers. They'll also feature a liquid-cooled computer in the trunk, processing, recording and transmitting every inch of the journey.
Owing to Google's presumed dominance in autonomous vehicle research and California's somewhat friendly road regulations allowing for certain autonomous vehicles to traverse public roads, there's no shame in assuming Uber would be building and testing its not-so-secret fleet of autonomous vehicles in the Sunshine State.
As it would happen, Pittsburgh is home to Carnegie Mellon University's (CMU) robotics department, which has produced many of the biggest names in the autonomous vehicle industry. As one example, the creator of Google's self-driving project, Sebastian Thrun, had spent seven years researching autonomous robots at CMU.
The future is (almost) now
Uber co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick began to hire researchers at CMU in 2014. In August 2012, Google had announced that they had completed over 300,000 autonomous-driving miles. Tesla’s Model X and Model S vehicles are today equipped with Autopilot, allowing for semi-autonomous functionality.
Many automakers and industry heavyweights such as Uber believe that the future of the car is driverless, and Uber, with the help of Volvo, is demonstrating that the future is not so distant.
Why Uber's Model Is So Disruptive
Self-driving cars are expensive, as Tesla owners can attest. Even the hotly anticipated Tesla Model 3, which is meant to be an "affordable" vehicle, will not come equipped with fully-functional Autopilot unless the driver is willing to spend upwards of $3,000 for autonomous upgrades.
Uber's plans will allow the ordinary masses access to autonomous technology.
Competition might soon get fierce. Lyft, an Uber competitor, has partnered with General Motors and has plans to roll out a similar offering some time in 2017.