September 9, 2016
In technology, it’s hard to get away from science fiction. The dreams and ideas of 20th century novelists are now the new gadgets in our kitchen, the new apps on our phones. Yet, there are few ideas more quintessentially sci-fi or “futuristic” than the self-driving car. Whether the Johnny Cab from Total Recall or KITT from Knight Rider, we’ve been watching driverless cars cruise across the screen for decades. Like hundreds of sci-fi tech before it, driverless cars are about to become a reality.
Uber is going to launch a massive experiment in Pittsburg and allow regular citizens to request a ride from driverless cars through their app.
Keeping You Safe without a Driver
It sounds risky. It sounds dangerous, and regulators are skeptical whether self-driving cars are ready for a wide release. To prove the safety and success of these driverless cars, a fleet of these vehicles will need to log hundreds of millions of miles in real world conditions without incident. As of last June, Google’s driverless fleet logged over 1.5 million miles, but that is not nearly enough.
To gather the necessary safety data and collect at least a significant portion of the miles they need, Uber is deploying 100 modified Volvo XC90s equipped with self-driving technology. Because this is an emerging technology still under development, the cars will also be equipped with an engineer who can take the wheel if necessary and a co-pilot who will take notes on the car’s performance. Finally, in the trunk, each XC90 will have a computer collecting data on each trip.
Uber’s Acquisition of Otto
The driverless car market is crowded with every car manufacturer and numerous technology developers racing to be the first to successfully launch the solution. Most have invested resources to create their own fleet and technology from the ground up, but Uber made a strategic acquisition to springboard it into contention.
Otto and its engineering team don’t want to build their own fleet either. They would rather create something more like a “self-driving kit.” The technology could be installed into existing cars already on the road. This aligns far better with Uber’s business model and goals.
It looks as though Uber will not make many substantial changes to the Otto infrastructure. The engineering team will remain the same and their office in San Francisco will become an Uber R&D facility. All in all, not much will change for Otto, except that they now operate under the Uber banner.
The Potential of Driverless Cars
Since 2010, the U.S. averages over 30,000 deaths per year from auto-related incidents, and human error plays a large role in many of these accidents. Numbers vary on this subject, but some have reported that it could be as high as 90%. If self-driving cars can be perfected, this number could be drastically reduced, and many lives could be saved.
This experiment in Pittsburg is the first real step towards a wide release, and the entire auto industry will be watching.
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