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Uber is Setting the Tone, but Other Companies Aren’t Far Behind

11.01.16 - Pittsburgh Skyline

Recently the leading ride sharing company in the country, Uber, announced its plans to have autonomous vehicles on the road as early as the next few weeks in one city. Uber has a self-driving research lab in Pittsburgh, which is where these self-driving Ubers will be deployed using a fleet of Ford Fusions to give passengers the ride they want in a car that can drive itself to whatever destination they’re headed. While these cars will be in their testing phases at first, this is certainly the direct the automotive world is headed and Uber is the first to take the leap of offering actual rides for those who want to experience autonomous driving.

Because this is a test phase for Uber there will be a human backup driver along for the ride to ensure any Uber customer is able to reach their destination safely. These drivers are instructed to take over if the autonomous systems begin to fail in any manner. Uber customers in Pittsburgh will have the option to choose an autonomous vehicle and those who do will have a free ride during this test phase for these systems.

Once the systems are in place and properly tested to offer fully autonomous rides from Uber, without the need of a backup driver present in the vehicle, Uber says the cost of ride sharing will be much less than the cost of owning a vehicle and nearly as convenient. This may be a huge shift in the mobility sector as many consumers may choose Uber over owning a vehicle in the future to have the ride they want to experience from this mobility company. Even though Uber is the first to the roads with autonomous driving, they aren’t the only company making huge strides in this area.

Recently Uber also made a $300 million deal with Volvo to have Volvo provide SUVs for the fleet that will make their way to Pittsburgh. In addition to this deal Uber has acquired the self-driving startup company called Otto. Otto brings in the co-founder Anthony Levandowski who is one of the founders of autonomous technology, which gives Uber a huge boost in the race to be the company that has this technology on the road first.

Other companies who have made huge investments in the autonomous and ride sharing market include General Motors who has invested $500 million into Lyft. The plan is to add a small scale fleet of self-driving GM vehicles to the Lyft fleet during the next year. GM also acquired Cruise Automation which brings in even more expertise in the world of autonomous driving.

Ford is another company that has made bold announcements and intends to have vehicles on the road by 2021 that don’t have a steering wheel or pedals for a driver. These cars may not even have a seat where a driver would normally sit, but that may be against safety regulations at the moment, which is a completely different hurdle to jump over.

Google has been developing autonomous technology for much longer than any other company and has been testing its self-driving cars on the public roads since 2009. They currently have a deal with FCA for 100 of the new Pacifica minivans and it appears they may partner with Hyundai to add autonomous driving technology to their lineup in the near future.

To Uber’s credit, they may have gathered the most prominent name in the world of autonomous driving. Levandowski created the technology that allows some big rigs to drive on highways without a driver, which he claims was a fairly easy problem to solve because these trucks spend a great deal of time on highways and not on city streets.

The race is on and it seems Uber may be at the head of the pack, at least in the Pittsburgh area. How long will the testing take before cars are allowed to completely drive themselves? There may be some serious challenges that take place before this happens, but this move by Uber is the right step forward and gives us cars that are able to drive themselves to our destinations along with a free Uber ride, which everyone loves.

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