Uber to Offer Rides in Self-Driving Cars

Uber Technologies Inc. will allow customers in downtown Pittsburgh to have ferry with self-driving cars as soon as this month, an important milestone for a company that make driverless cars commercially available.

The company will only put a few cars in Pittsburgh at the beginning of the test, with the eventual goal of having 100 in the city. Uber Chief Executive Travis Kalanick said that the technology is necessary for lowering the cost in the future, but it also means that among 1.5 million active Uber drivers will lose their jobs in the future.

“The technology is going to happen because the promise is so real,” Mr. Kalanick said in an interview. “It’s existential. We have to have all the best minds working on this.”

The driverless cars will be specially-equipped Volvo XC90 sport-utility vehicles and Ford Focus. This is the first time that customers can hail a ride in a driverless car. But it doesn’t mean the car will be empty, Two Uber employees will be sitting in the front seat of each vehicle. One Uber employee will be in the driver’s seat with hands on the steering wheel as an emergency backup, another observing from the passenger seat, the company said. 

“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.”

“Both Uber and Volvo will use the same base vehicle for the next stage of their own autonomous car strategies,” the Volvo statement reads. “This will involve Uber adding its own self-developed autonomous driving systems to the Volvo base vehicle. Volvo will use the same base vehicle for the next stage of its own autonomous car strategy, which will involve fully autonomous driving.”

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