Uber just put the pedal to the metal on the highway to autonomous cars.
The San Francisco-based company announced today a $300 million partnership with Volvo to co-develop autonomous sports-utility vehicles that will either be used as self-driving taxis or will be sold to consumers
The Swedish auto maker said Thursday that it would conduct much of the initial research towards developing a XC90 SUV with autonomous capabilities, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Based on that research, both Volvo and Uber will develop their own respective driverless car technologies. However, the agreement states that Uber will buy the XC90 SUVs manufactured by Volvo, which has been one of the auto sector’s most active members on autonomous technology.
Uber, known for its ride-hailing and ride sharing services, has been working towards autonomous vehicles in the hopes of eventually replacing its thousands of contract workers.
This mimics the efforts by several ride sharing firms such as Lynx and the Chinese leader Didi, several of which have teamed up with automakers in the hopes of being first to launch a driverless car. Ride hailing companies have a huge opportunity with driverless cars to eliminate their biggest expense — paying drivers.
While Toyota has also invested an unknown amount into Uber, Volkswagen will back Gett, and General Motors will support Lyft. Ford, who just this week announced its intentions to mass produce and commercialize autonomous cars by 2021, has aligned itself with the biggest autonomous player in the Valley — Google.
In addition, Uber also announced Thursday that it will acquire the Silicon Valley-based autonomous truck startup Ottomotto LLC. The deal will see the company’s founder Anthony Levandowski join Uber to lead the company’s efforts in autonomous vehicles.
This agreement was made with safety at the forefront, and will focus on developing both hardware — such as sensors to detect traffic — but also on software.
Volvo and Uber are not restricted from striking alliances with other like-minded companies. Sometime in the near future, Volvo plans to launch a driverless car experiment in China, Britain or Sweden.
Furthermore, Uber plans to deploy a fleet of driverless cars in Pittsburg, by allowing customers to summon autonomous vehicles on their phones starting later this month. These cars will consist of Volvo’s modified XC90 sport utility vehicles.
All vehicles involved will be supervised by a human driver until further notice, but this still represents a huge step towards deploying autonomous cars on public streets. Customers will still request cars through Uber’s app, though trips will be free to start.
All in all, however, Uber seems to have lapped every other driver in the race to autonomy.
Related reading: Ford commits to produce autonomous cars for ride sharing by 2021