It’s not slowing down
Last May, the auto-drive feature of a Florida man’s Tesla Model S failed to brake at a critical moment – the car crashed into a tractor-trailer, killing the driver, or rather, the man who wasn’t so much driving as letting the car drive for him. This was the first fatality associated with autonomous vehicle technology.
Despite this tragic incident, there’s been no slowdown in the push towards bringing more and more autonomous vehicles to the streets. After all, there have been countless fatal car crashes caused by human drivers in the meantime. Proponents of autonomous vehicles argue that the technology will eliminate human error, making driving safer. Statistically speaking, one death in the hundreds of thousands of miles that self-driving cars have covered is a drop in the bucket.
For ride-sharing startup Uber, the testing phase for self-driving cars is nearing completion.
Uber has already been test driving their autonomous vehicles in the streets of Pittsburgh, and this week, the company announced that customers can now hire a driverless ride, making it the first company to use self-driving cars commercially.
Uber x Volvo in Pittsburgh
Driverless Uber rides have been made possible by a collaboration with Volvo, whose XC90 SUVs have been outfitted with self-driving technology. “Partnership is crucial to our self-driving strategy according to CEO Travis Kalanick via Uber’s blog.
For now, until all the kinks have been ironed out, an Uber engineer will sit in the front seat to monitor the car, and will take over driving if necessary. For the duration of this pilot program, driverless rides are offered free of charge – so hop on this opportunity, Pittsburghers! It’s a free ride, and a chance to be part of a historic moment in car technology.
Where competitors stand
While Lyft is taking baby steps towards self-driving rides, partnering with GM to put cameras and sensors (but no auto-drive features as of yet) on their Express Drive vehicles, Uber has hired dozens of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University to form a research facility in Pittsburgh.
They’ve also acquired Otto, a San Francisco startup working on self-driving trucks, in hopes of eventually using self-driving cars for deliveries and trucking in addition to its taxi service.
Uber is a great example of a startup that has built its success on staying ahead of the curve by knowing when and where to invest, to acquire, and to partner up.
This is certainly the case when it comes to autonomous vehicle innovation. Says Kalanick, “By combining Uber’s self-driving technology with Volvo’s state-of-the-art vehicles and safety technology, we’ll get to the future faster than going it alone.”