By on August 18, 2016

Volvo Cars and Uber join forces to develop autonomous driving cars

Volvo is partnering with ride-hailing service Uber, a $300 million deal expected to spawn a fleet of self-driving vehicles on U.S. roads.

Both companies plan to develop their own autonomous technology using a Volvo “base” vehicle, but Pittsburgh will see a crop of self-driving Swedes by the end of the year, Automotive News reports.

As part of the agreement, Uber will outfit 100 XC90 plug-in SUVs with technology created at its Pittsburgh technology center. The company will test a slew of gadgetry — cameras, sensors, software, radar and lidar — as the vehicles drive themselves through the city. A new vehicle, built on Volvo’s modular Scalable Product Architecture (SPA), will test next-generation technologies at some point in the future.

Uber’s goal is to eventually do away with its drivers. Passengers would be picked up by a fleet of self-driving vehicles and dropped off at a programmed destination. No more small talk about the weather with a complete stranger.

Earlier this year, Fortune reported that Uber was using a specially outfitted Ford Fusion to map the city’s roads and test autonomous technology, but the automaker denied any partnership with the company.

The XC90s roaming around Pittsburg won’t be empty — due to regulations and safety concerns, Uber engineers will ride shotgun to keep an eye on things. Volvo plans to use the same vehicle for its own autonomous driving program.

“The alliance marks the beginning of  what both companies view as a longer term industrial partnership,” the automaker said in a statement.

In a statement delivered to Automotive News, Uber said the company has the support of city leaders and law enforcement, otherwise the self-driving project would be a non-starter.

[Image: Volvo Car Corporation}

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31 Comments on “Volvo Partners with Uber, Unleashes Self-Driving XC90s in Pittsburgh...”

  • avatar

    So will these things also sit at four-way stops and wave everyone else across first?

  • avatar

    I’m surprised (and delighted!) that all of this is happening so quickly. Between Uber and Tesla, the amount of real-world test data being collected is going to catapult this technology forward much faster than most would have expected. Fingers crossed that my grandparents may get their unaccompanied mobility back in their lifetimes.

    • 0 avatar

      And my fingers are crossed your grandparents don’t get run over by a car driving itself.

      You trust these things around your loved ones? I don’t…not yet, anyway.

      • 0 avatar

        I trust them way more than I trust human drivers. You know, the human drivers who kill 30,000 people a year throughout the US.

        • 0 avatar

          This is, of course, the part people miss. Many many people die. Very very often distraction or lack of training causes these fatalities. I am guilty of it on long road trips. Closer to home, I admit to having had to stomp on the brakes at a light because I was distracted talking to a passenger or just zoned out from doing the same drive every. damn. day. forever in my commute and my mind was on something else.

          I tend to believe I have more situational awareness than most and at least reacted in these situations by taking stock of vehicles around me and making sure I didn’t cause secondary accidents by stomping on the brakes or whatever, but the point is, we’re all human and we are subject to human frailties.

          Autonomous vehicles aren’t perfect either, and likely never will be. But IMHO, they will, net, reduce fatalities on the road. Because while they will have limitations, those limitations will be edge cases, not the many, many causes of driver fatigue, distraction, or lack of training we see today.

          I would not want my grandparents to drive themselves anywhere. Yet many of their friends, of the same age, still do, because these same elderly individuals also vote and taking away their licenses would mean politicians risking losing an election. So elderly driving laws are far, far less strict than they should be. And driver training in general is far more lax than it should be. Given these realities – yes, please, hurry already with the autonomous modes.

          • 0 avatar

            Your argument:

            “Cars should be autonomous because so many drivers make mistakes and kill people.”

            By the same logic:

            “Planes should be autonomous because most plane crashes are caused by pilot error that kills people.”

            So…are you ready to ride the fully autonomous 747 based on current technology?

            Yeah, I didn’t think so.

            I am fully supportive of autonomous cars…when the tech is fully developed. It isn’t now.

          • 0 avatar

            Your argument presumes that plane accidents are caused by one thing. They almost never are, and this is a big part of why air travel is so safe. There are almost always multiple failures that need to happen for an air accident to occur.

            And I’ve actually flown in more than one fully autonomous plane, in the sense that the plane performed a CAT III approach all on its own, with the pilot just hitting the “APCH” button on the autopilot and let it do its thing.

            fly-by-wire planes today are Level 3 vehicles – they are fully capable of dealing with all aspects of the flight as well as, if not better than, their human counterparts. Their ability to correct for things like aerodynamic stalls (envelope protection) and ability to see much further and better than humans is taken for granted because we long ago outran human ability to fly high and fast without instrumentation. Yes, this has lead to accidents where pilots “forget how to fly manually”, but these accidents are far, far fewer than what existed pre-autopilot, and I would expect the exact same thing to happen with autonomous vehicles.

            The humans are there to deal only with edge cases. This is the same level that worries a lot of people about autos. Air travel has shown this to quite possibly be true. This creates a moral quandary I think: If we could reduce auto fatalities by, say, 75%, but those remaining 25% of accidents happened due to systems failure and drivers failing to recover quickly enough, *should* we make the transition?

            I personally vote yes in that situation, because the responsibility is still on me to be able to take control if I have to, and I accept that responsibility. If the car fails and I die because I was asleep, well, that’s on me.

            I fully expect others to disagree and believe the fatality rate needs to be zzero before we move to autonomous level 3. But you better not fly either, then. :D

    • 0 avatar

      I’m 99% sure that litigation and legislation will slow this way down (mostly litigation) And I actually welcome that after reading a few interviews with some of the designers of the tech at MIT and other major universities it sounds like they are getting pushed into this before all the tech is ready.

      • 0 avatar

        The number of traffic fatalities on Earth each day is the equivalent of a 747 going down in the ocean each day.

        I frankly can’t wait for autonomous cars because at least here in the USA, 99% of drivers think they drive better than 99% of the driving population.


        Also, it really says something when the only thing sports-related that lardass Americans do is drive their “sports”-utility vehicles.

  • avatar

    Johnny Cab will be a Swede, apparently.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    About 2 years ago, Uber swiped almost 3 dozen robotics engineers from Carnegie Mellon University’s robotics development group. This seems to be their first output.

    It should be interesting, given Pittsburgh’s (spelled with an “h”, BTW) terrible public transportation system, terrible road conditions, bizarre road routing (which basically overlay old Indian paths), and sloppy winters.

    I avoid the city, but I’ll look out for these gadgets if I’m there.

  • avatar

    Pgh also just opened up new bike lanes and started a “city bike” share service.

    There *will* be blood.

    I’m sure that the “uber-overseers” “riding shotgun” will be totally ready for any situation that crops up, since they’ll be totally responsible for any injuries or fatalities.

    I guess that instead of being carjacked, people will be robbed and assaulted in these vehicles while said vehicle dutifully waits at an intersection for 5 “gentlemen” to cross the street.

    • 0 avatar

      alarmist much? Bikes are already something people have to watch for. It’s not like Bikers live in a panacea where they never ever have to worry about humans getting in their paths or anything, because they always treat them with respect on the road and give them enough space to do their thing.

      As someone who has done more than my fair share of driving in San Francisco, I think I can say with some authority that it would be pretty hard for the situation to get *worse* for bikers than it is today. At least autonomous vehicles probably won’t ride inches from their rear tires or fail to check their blindspots.

      As for carjacking, what, exactly, stops the human from stomping on the gas and running over these five “gentlemen”, or whatever gruesome alternative you had in store for them other than waiting for them to cross? I don’t remember reading that the drivers wouldn’t be able to, you know, drive if it came down to it.

      • 0 avatar

        Defensive much?

        Seems like any article with the word “Tesla” in it draws you to reply to any and all skepticism.

        At Shaker:
        Not a chance, Teslas automatic door handles will malfunction long before any would-be thief could break in. The Volvo will just open its doors to anyone…okay that was a bad joke, I admit.

        • 0 avatar

          “Defensive much?” – Not really. I just have firsthand experience, as driver and biker, with the plight of bikes in modern urban traffic.

          “Seems like any article with the word “Tesla” in it draws you to reply to any and all skepticism.” – Impressive comment considering the article here has nothing to do with Tesla (nor, indeed, are they named at all).

          Will I 1) call out situations that directly contradict my own personal experience? Sure. Do I have a bias? Damned right. I want personal mobility for those that don’t have it today. It hits very close to home for me. Does that mean I’ll comment on articles that are about technology in the automotive arena? Damned right.

          Since when was being a “skeptic” a bad thing, anyway? Are we not supposed to question blanket statements that imply bike lanes + autonomous vehicles + bike shares = more dead bikers than the situation today without any of these things?

          • 0 avatar

            Admittedly I dont have much experience with bikes, I do try to give them space just due to how risky it can be.

            Nuttin wrong with being a skeptic, I implore it!

      • 0 avatar

        “I don’t remember reading that the drivers wouldn’t be able to, you know, drive if it came down to it.”

        Once the Autonomous Vehicle is truly “autonomous”, several people will surround the car (one with a tire-iron) will have all of your possessions in 30 seconds. The car will just sit there, not being allowed to harm humans (yes, you pushed the “911” button, the TV cameras are on, but the bandannas are deployed).

        Or, I’m just paranoid by nature.

        An errant bicyclist is obscured by sun glare at the exact right time – the car is being followed by another @ 30 MPH

        • 0 avatar

          “Or, I’m just paranoid by nature.”

          Maybe not, maybe your part of the world is just way more terrifying than mine.

          • 0 avatar

            If I could only stop watching the local 6:00 news…

            There are just certain parts of town that I will *not* go anymore, and even the neighborhood where I used to live 30 yrs ago is a place I won’t go to after nightfall.

            It’s just the truth. It’s sad, and I wish it were different.

          • 0 avatar

            One has to be careful with appearances, though. I don’t know how old you are, but when I was a kid, there wasn’t an Internet and 24 hour news cycle that guaranteed every violent crime ever was reported on repeatedly.

            Statistically, as I understand it violent crime is at the lowest it’s been in decades in the US[1]. It certainly doesn’t “feel” that way because it’s sensationalized *everywhere*. This also, as you suggested, raises everyone’s personal alert levels and paranoia, so now every alley feels like a death trap just waiting for a wanderer.

            You described a world of fully autonomous vehicles being trapped by roving gangs. I’m not so sure that will be that common for a few reasons:

            1 – people will be carrying much less cash, and devices like phones can be remotely, centrally disabled and prevented from getting on network again, same with payment cards. So less incentive for carjack-for-personal burglary.
            2 – the vehicles themselves will almost certainly have always-on connectivity, which means
            3 – the “911” mode you describe will probably both stream recordings out of the vehicle in realtime as well as provide real-time tracking and disabling control to law enforcement, meaning the car isn’t especially valuable to the thieves, either.

            Now if their goal is to kidnap you, you’re SOL. But unlike TV, those instances are both rate and almost never end well for the perpetrator, again lowering incentive.

            So, *shrug*. I dunno. I don’t particularly see autonomous vehicles increasing the violent crime rate much. I personally would expect the opposite.

  • avatar

    Anyone remember Volvos self-braking tests from some years back? Hopefully their auto-driving systems will be a bit more reliable.

    I still say the techs being pushed too quickly, anymore Tesla incidents and people may not feel safe behind a car that drives itself.

  • avatar

    So will riders have the ability to opt out of the ride (or at least be notified that the car being sent is sans-driver?) if it is an unmanned vehicle? And has Uber come out directly stating that they want to do away with the entire network of manned vehicles?

    I don’t want to come off as too much “get off my lawn” here, but I’m not sure we’re quite ready for completely autonomous vehicles, especially as long as there are manned vehicles still on the road.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, as the article states, they have drivers, so that’s not (yet) an issue.

      I (obviously!) can’t speak for Uber, but I would totally expect that their long-term goal is to do away with pesky humans that can both 1) make human errors while driving and 2) cause them no ends of trouble when background checks aren’t up to snuff.

      That being said, it really comes down to when the tipping point on cost is there – if the fully autonomous vehicle costs more over a three year span than paying a driver to use their own vehicle would, they’re certainly not going to change over whole-hog.

  • avatar

    I just love these

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