Uber works its way toward no more drivers

uber mapping car 1

Uber mapping car

Credit: Uber

There's lots going on with Uber lately.

The ride-sharing service is rolling out self-driving cars in Pittsburgh, buying a self-driving truck startup, Otto, and will partner with Volvo to work on, you guessed it, self-driving cars. It doesn't take a genius to see what these three things have in common, but we'll break it down for you, anyway, since there are a few more pertinent details.

In IT Blogwatch, we hit the road.

Let's start with Pittsburgh. What is going on there? The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Editorial Board gives us some background:

Uber will debut self-driving cars in Pittsburgh later this month. Their test vehicles...have been toodling around town for months. No one will bat an eyelash at the...tricked-out Volvo XC90 SUVs autonomously ambling along city streets.
...
Who will be the daring consumer to summon the first self-driving car? Uber is...appealing to the budget-conscious: Rides are free during this trial period...the risk is virtually nil. A...human will be in the driver’s seat...ready to steady course if the machine’s smarts are outwitted by local terrain.

To be honest, the self-driving cars debuting in Pittsburgh may be the least exciting part of all this. So let's move on to the self-driving truck acquisition. Johana Bhuiyan has some information on that:

The acquisition gives each company a way to accelerate the development of autonomous driving...Otto’s core value is both developing self-driving technology and helping consumers realize its safety benefits...For Otto, the opportunity to accelerate its path to market was one that it couldn’t refuse.
...
For Uber, the impetus behind the acquisition is clear...Uber bought proprietary autonomous technology that can be retrofitted into vehicles and...a new leader for...its self-driving efforts: Otto co-founder Anthony Levandowski...the original architect of Google’s self-driving cars...will now be leading all of Uber’s self-driving efforts, which includes Otto.

It's all starting to make sense. So what about that Volvo partnership? Bernie Woodall gives us some details on that, along with some end goals:

The Uber-Volvo partnership will allow Uber to pool resources with the...carmaker...into initially developing the autonomous driving capabilities of Volvo's flagship XC90 SUV model...The goal is to develop a fully self-driving car by 2021.
...
Over the long-term, Uber...could cut the cost of paying drivers if they can...incorporate self-driving cars into their fleets. But...for now...Uber will expand its driver network, which...stands at 1.5 million globally in more than 450 cities.

With all this talk of self-driving vehicles, how do Uber's human drivers feel about everything? Julia Carrie Wong asked one:

Rob Judge, 41, was...concerned with the announcement.
...
“It feels like we’re just rentals. We’re kind of like placeholders until the technology comes out.”
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