Uber and Zhejiang Geely Holding's Volvo Car Group said they will roll out a driverless fleet of Volvo XC90s in Pittsburgh before the end of the year.
Uber, which is private, operates a driverless vehicle research and development project in Pittsburgh, staffed in part by former robotics specialists from Carnegie Mellon University who joined the San Francisco-based ride-sharing company.
According to Bloomberg, Uber will offer a service that will allow consumers in Pittsburgh to summon self-driving cars from their phones. Initially, the cars will be supervised by Uber employees. Ford Fusions also will be used in the first stage of operation.
Uber will modify the volvo XC90s, adding sensing devices such as lidar, radar and additional cameras and sensors. The alterations will allow the seven-seat SUV to drive itself, according to Sherif Marakby, a former Ford executive who left to become Uber's vice president of global vehicle programs. Earlier this week, Ford announced a planned doubling of staff at its Palo Alto-based research labs and commitment to offer driverless vehicles by 2021.
Uber said the project isn't exclusive in terms of a promise to use only Volvo vehicles. So far, the company hasn't said how it will charge for rides or if poor weather conditions might impede operations. The company said it has received support from Pittsburgh's government.
In a prepared statement, Travis Kalanick, Uber's CEO, said: "Over 1 million people die in car accidents every year. These are tragedies that self-driving technology can help solve, but we can't do this alone. That's why our partnership with a great manufacturer like Volvo is so important. Volvo is a leader in vehicle development and best-in-class when it comes to safety. By combining the capabilities of Uber and Volvo we will get to the future faster, together."
The $300 million venture's progress is certain to be scrutinized by a global automotive industry racing to develop driverless technology. According to Automotive News, the Sino-Swedish carmaker will supply vehicles and technical support as needed and Uber will install the driverless system.
"Volvo is one of the most progressive and contemporary carmakers in the world. It is a world leader in the development of active safety and autonomous drive technology and possesses an unrivaled safety credibility," said Hakan Samuelsson, Volvo's CEO. "We are very proud to be the partner of choice for Uber, one of the world's leading technology companies. This alliance places Volvo at the heart of the current technological revolution in the automotive industry."
"Volvo will use the same base vehicle for the next stage of its own autonomous car strategy, which will involve fully autonomous driving," the automaker said in a statement.
Doron Levin is the host of "In the Driver Seat," broadcast on SiriusXM Insight 121, Saturday at noon, encore Sunday at 9 a.m.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.