Uber’s self-driving vehicles will reach the market ahead of the company’s flying taxis, according to Eric Meyhofer, head of the Uber Advanced Technologies Group (ATG).
The Uber Air ‘aerial ridesharing’ service will allow passengers to fly between ‘Skyports’, cutting travel times and reducing street-level congestion. The division has set itself the ambitious target of achieving commercial implementation in 2023, but Meyhofer is confident that the ATG team can beat their colleagues to the punch.
Speaking during a roundtable discussion at the third Uber Elevate Summit in Washington DC, Meyhofer said that his group would attempt to introduce its self-driving vehicles to customers before 2023.
When asked whether he was confident that ATG would succeed in beating their Uber Air counterparts to market, his answer was an unambiguous “yes”.
“We have a big advantage that often gets forgotten about, and that is that we can commercialise in a really small area,” he added. “We can commercialise in a very small area and it makes sense. Should we? Will the world be ready? I don’t know, [but] our system will be ready.”
Uber scaled back the live testing of its autonomous vehicles following the death of Elaine Herzberg, who was struck by one of the firm’s self-driving cars in Tempe, Arizona in March 2018. Uber ATG has now resumed live testing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Meyhofer said that the way in which the division operates has been completely overhauled since the tragedy.
“The number of things that have changed at ATG since the beginning of 2018 to today is significant,” he said. “There are hundreds of things that we could say: ‘If that one thing were different today, would the accident have occurred?’ And the answer would continuously be no.
“It was such a combination of events that all tragically aligned and allowed [the accident] to occur. The number of things that we have changed in our organisation – from cultural changes, to the way our safety team works now, to who we develop and release hardware and software with – would all have prevented the accident.”
Uber ATG used the Washington DC summit as a platform to launch its latest self-driving vehicle, in conjunction with Volvo Cars. The autonomous Volvo XC90 SUV model is the third car that the partners have developed together, and the first production car capable of fully driving itself, according to its designers.
Håkan Samuelsson, president and chief executive of Volvo Cars, said: “We believe autonomous drive technology will allow us to further improve safety, the foundation of our company. By the middle of the next decade, we expect one-third of all cars we sell to be fully autonomous. Our agreement with Uber underlines our ambition to be the supplier of choice to the world’s leading ride-hailing companies.”
Volvo Cars plans to use a similar autonomous base vehicle concept for the introduction of its first commercially available autonomous drive technology in the early 2020s. Meyhofer did not offer an exact timeline for the commercial rollout of Uber’s self-driving vehicle fleet.
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