Uber Wants all of the Self-Driving Vehicle Market

| Analysis

Self-driving cars just took a big leap forward, and it’s Uber who’s behind the wheel. The ride sharing company is rolling out self-driving cars in Pittsburgh this month as the first step in a much larger autonomous vehicle plan.

Uber self-driving Volvo

Uber’s self-driving cars hit Pittsburgh’s streets this month

Pittsburgh is a test city for Uber where the company’s autonomous cars will handle regular ride requests, although they’ll have two people in the front seats: one behind the wheel in case a human has to take over driving, and another monitoring the car, according to Bloomberg. Eventually the front seat team will be phased out wherever laws and other regulations allow.

Assuming this test phase goes well, Uber plans to add more cities to its autonomous driving fleet—and eventually replace about a million human drivers.

Instead of relying on other companies for its self-driving platform, Uber has been snapping up top engineers from Tesla, Google, and Apple. The company also partnered with Volvo for the first batch of cars, XC90 SUVs.

Uber’s pilot program puts it well ahead of the other big players in the autonomous car game. While Uber conducts its real-world commercial test, Tesla offers limited self-driving support, and Google is still running 25 MPH tests. Apple, rumored to be working on its own autonomous electric car, hasn’t shown off anything yet or even confirmed its car project is real.

Driving people around is only part of Uber’s plan. The company just purchased Otto, a startup that’s making a self-driving system for freight trucks. Otto is currently testing its platform around San Francisco.

For Uber, this is more than building a market; it’s also about holding its own against Google. Google wants in the ride-sharing market, too, and that’s a big threat to Uber’s business plans.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said,

The minute it was clear to us that our friends in Mountain View were going to be getting in the ride-sharing space, we needed to make sure there is an alternative [self-driving car]. Because if there is not, we’re not going to have any business.

But Uber is looking beyond simply getting a slice of the ride-sharing business; it wants to be the ride-sharing business. Uber wants to cart us around, along with all of our stuff and everything we buy.

Uber has a strong engineering team, owns Otto, and is collecting driving data from over a million drivers. The company is clearly motivated to stay ahead of Google and Tesla, and Apple, assuming the Cupertino company is working on a self-driving car.

Barring major technical setbacks, Uber has enough of a lead to be the dominant name in autonomous vehicles—at least for now. Google and Tesla have deep pockets funding their self-driving car projects and would love to knock Uber down a notch. And if Apple really is working on an autonomous car, too, Uber has a long road ahead.

7 Comments Add a comment

  1. Two thoughts:

    This is just another bit of evidence that says to me that Apple is too far behind the curve with cars. Ford announced yesterday they are planning on having a self driving car by 2021. Tesla has one now, albeit partially. By the time Apple comes out with their own effort everyone else will be way ahead to where the puck has gone..

    Thus is another reason I don’t do Uber. Not the self driving part. The fact is Uber doesn’t care about their employees. They settled upon this model where people think they are grasping at freedom, when actually they are trading benefits, a reliable job, and wear and tear on their own vehicle (all of which Uber has kindly offload onto them) for a return to piecework from a Dickensian era many of us hoped was long dead. I heard rumors that Uber wanted to move to self driving vehicles some time ago. This confirms that at the soonest opportunity they will happily dump the people that made them millionaires without so much as a by your leave.
    Uber: Abusive Capitalism at its lowest.

  2. Geoduck nailed it. The disdain so many of these companies have for their employees s just jaw-dropping. That doesn’t even begin to address the fact that this is essentially unproven technology. It’s insanity meeting greed, and that is not a good combination. :/

    I expect Apple is ‘behind the curve’ because they are actually in possession of a modicum of ethics.

  3. PS – If there will be a driver behind the wheel, tell me again: how is this any different from a taxi? What passes for innovation these days is a bad joke, and it kills me that there a re companies making billions on the back of it.

  4. JustCause

    I love this, you don’t advance technology like this by driving around a closed track (Tesla is moving at the right pace, you can’t stop stupid people from doing stupid things in a car). If and when Apple does it, it will be Apples way.

  5. I will admit one thing though. Once self driving cars are available I’ll be there with bells on. Sure I like driving, but not to and from work, not to the store. Most of my driving is because I need to be somewhere, not that I want to drive there. So I figure in about ten years I’ll be looking to trade in my 2005 Prius on somebodies self driving car. We’ll save the other car for trips we WANT to make.

  6. JustCause

    If they take away the steering wheel, I will not be buying

    @geoduck , completely agree there’s time you want to drive and times you don’t, but if I have to own two cars to accomplish that it would be the wrong direction.

    Car moving forward should have three modes:
    1) autopilot – the user need do nothing except enter destination/route and the user can be anywhere in the car, liability for accidents etc is the car manufacture
    2) accident avoidance – the user is in control, but the car will not allow an accident to happen, liability for accidents etc is the car manufacture
    3) manual – user is in complete control and can do damage, liability for accidents etc is the current driver
    This allows for those that want to drive, to be able to drive but also has the advantage of lower accident rates and even allows for people to sleep, read and/or TXT.

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