Uber Is About To Start Giving Rides In Self-Driving Cars

By Russ Mitchell And Tracey Lien
Los Angeles Times

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Uber Chief Executive Travis Kalanick says the company is accelerating its plan to replace its 1 million human drivers with robots as quickly as possible. First stop? The city of Pittsburgh where driverless cars will be on the roads within in a few weeks.

SAN FRANCISCO

The robot cars aren’t coming. The robot cars are here.

A fleet of Fords and Volvos, capable of driving themselves, is fully equipped and ready to hit the streets of Pittsburgh within weeks.

The cars will be deployed by Uber, the ride-hailing company. Experimental robot cars already prowl streets and highways. But in this case, Uber customers will be inside.

An Uber employee will be at the wheel in case things go wrong. But, eventually, Uber intends to render human drivers unnecessary.

“Uber is accelerating its plan to replace its 1 million human drivers with robots as quickly as possible,” Uber Chief Executive Travis Kalanick said in a blog post Thursday. He also announced a partnership with Volvo to work on driverless car development and the acquisition of Otto, a driverless truck technology company.

Some companies push boundaries. Uber is known for busting through them. It went from nothing in 2009 to become the largest app-based ride-hailing company on Earth, with more than a million drivers globally and a presence in more than 60 countries.

Now it’s the first service to transport commercial passengers in fully autonomous cars on public roadways. Uber will be using Ford Focuses and Volvo XC90s.

“This will help people understand whether they like these systems or not,” said Aaron Steinfeld, associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute. “And Uber can identify areas where they need to make changes based on feedback.”

Uber, of course, is just one player in the rush toward driverless vehicles. General Motors, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Tesla and most other automakers are pushing the technology. Google is working on self-driving cars and possibly Apple, too.

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