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Volvo joins forces with Uber for autonomous vehicle pilot

Self-driving Volvo cars will take to the streets of Pittsburgh as part of a test of autonomous technology spearheaded by ride-sharing firm Uber

Sweden’s Volvo Cars and ride-sharing company Uber have embarked on a $300m development project to incorporate autonomous vehicle technology into base Volvo cars.

Under the collaboration, Volvo will supply about 100 of its XC90 four-by-fours, which will be kitted out with Uber’s self-developed autonomous driving systems. Volvo will also use the same base vehicle for its own autonomous driving strategy.

The two firms said the joint project was a significant step for the automotive industry, and underlined the ways it was evolving as new technology is brought to bear on the sector. A long-term industrial partnership is expected to grow out of the pilot.

“Volvo is a world leader in the development of active safety and autonomous drive technology and possesses an unrivaled safety credibility,” said Volvo CEO Håkan Samuelsson.

“This alliance places Volvo at the heart of the current technological revolution in the automotive industry.”

The base XC90s will be developed using Volvo’s existing modular scalable product architecture (SPA), which the manufacturer claims is one of the most advanced car architectures in the world. Besides the XC90, SPA is also used on its S90 saloon and V90 estate models.

Safety and redundancy

Volvo and Uber engineers will work jointly on the development process, enhancing the SPA platform to encompass safety, redundancy and other features that will be vital for truly autonomous driving.

 “Over one million people die in car accidents every year,” said Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick. “These are tragedies that self-driving technology can help to solve, but we can’t do this alone.

“That is 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 two companies hope to have a fully autonomous vehicle on the road by 2021, within the same timeframe recently announced by Ford, which is pumping money into a mass-produced autonomous car which it hopes will form the core of an Uber-like ride-sharing service.

Pittsburgh trials

The testing will take place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Uber has announced it will expand a trial of autonomous vehicle technology by enabling members of the public to hail autonomous Volvos using the Uber app. Up to now, the tests, which have used Ford Fusion saloons, have not been open to the public.

Uber said that within the next few weeks, customers in Pittsburgh would be able to opt for an autonomous Volvo when they request their ride in the normal way. However, for the time being the cars will be supplied with human drivers to take control in an emergency. Uber said it would waive fares for people willing to take part.

Google challenge

Kalanick and Uber’s charge into autonomous vehicle tech has been read by many as a challenge to Google, which has been testing self-driving cars in the field for some time but has not yet worked up to public tests.

This was further cemented this week with Uber’s purchase of Otto, a California-based developer of self-driving lorry technology, which is headed by ex-Googler and autonomous vehicle pioneer Anthony Levandowski.

Read more about autonomous vehicles

“Together, we now have one of the strongest autonomous engineering groups in the world,” wrote Kalanick.

“Self-driving trucks and cars that are already on the road thanks to Otto and Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh, the practical experience that comes from running ridesharing and delivery services in hundreds of cities, and the data and intelligence that comes from doing 1.2 billion miles on the road every month.”

Next Steps

Audio device company uses Watson to bring AI virtual assistants to more cars

Read more on Internet of Things (IoT)

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Every once in a (far too rare) while, some new technology comes along and changes everything for almost everyone. Think the telephone. Think the automobile. Think the personal computer. And here we are witnessing the birth of another with the power to upend our definition of transportation. Of sure, we'll still drive cars; we also like to ride horses.
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