The popular ride-hailing service announced two new initiatives this week signaling its interest in self-driving vehicles.
The company revealed it struck a partnership with Volvo to test a fleet of semi-autonomous cars in Pittsburgh at the end of the month while it also acquired a startup called Otto, which has been working on software kits designed to turn big rigs into self-driving trucks.
First, the deal with Volvo entails customizing a number of Volvo XC90 sport-utility vehicles running on Uber’s own driverless car software, reported Bloomberg.
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There will be another person in the driver’s seat to take over when needed if the car encounters an unexpected obstacle while another individual resides in the passenger seat taking notes.
These specialized vehicles will be equipped with cameras residing inside and outside the car so it can record everything happening in its surrounding environment, so engineers can remove potential glitches and refine detailed maps of the city.
Drivers will be present in the car as a safety precaution, according to The New York Times. Going over bridges will require a human driver to take over since these locations don’t provide any environmental cues like buildings to determine its location, confusing the software’s mapping component.
Passengers will need “opt in” to be part of this test trial before they ride in the cars, too.
“There’s an urgency to our mission about being part of the future,” Travis Kalanick, Uber’s chief executive, said on Thursday in an interview. “This is not a side project. This is existential for us.”
The acquisition of Otto will focus more on the startup’s software kits and engineering team, which will strengthen its software and features like cameras, radar detection systems, and GPS receivers typically installed in these automobiles. Test trials of Otto’s technology has shown that they were able to have trucks maintain a pre-determined speed, safely stay in one lane, and slow or stop when needed.
Uber’s plan comes on the heels of Ford announcing that it would have a fleet of self-driving cars without steering wheels be available for customers by 2021.