News & Views
Uber takes the lead in driverless race

While Uber is continuing to roll out its ridesharing service across new territories, most recently in Australia, the company is also exploring the potential of driverless cars. As of this week, Uber passengers in Pittsburgh will be able to hail an autonomous vehicle — for free!

Wired has described this $300 million partnership between Uber and Volvo as “the most aggressive implementation of autonomous driving ever,” and says that  “this deployment shows just how radically autonomous vehicles are going to reshape the world — starting with cities.”

Uber reportedly selected Volvo for this project due to the auto brand’s reputation for safety. (Of course, car safety has always been heavily regulated, but the lack of a human being at the wheel tends to bring the risks to the forefront of everybody’s consciousness.) During the pilot scheme, every passenger in the self-driving Volvo XC90 will be accompanied by a trained operator up in the front, and an engineer in the back.

“Eventually, when the driver and engineer are taken out of the car, and the price of technology drops, [driverless cars] will become a cost-saving measure,” Jeffrey Miller, Associate Professor of Engineering at the University of Southern California, tells Tech Republic.

But the up-front investment required is staggering, he adds: “These companies have to be well-funded and very forward-looking to make the investment in driverless technologies right now because they are actually going to cost more money in the near-term.”

Chinese web giant Baidu also entered the race this week, teaming up with Nvidia to design an AI platform which can then be built out into a taxi fleet. Unlike other companies, however, Baidu is only aiming for ‘Level 3’ autonomy in its vehicles, which will enable self-driving in some but not all circumstances.

Elsewhere, tech giant Google has taken a hit in its autonomous vehicle initiative with the departure of Project Director and CTO Chris Urmson, along with software engineers Jiajun Zhu and Dave Ferguson. According to the Wall Street Journal, former top Apple exec Bob Mansfield has been approached to take over as project lead and help bring Google’s autonomous cars to market.

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