There is hardly a person today who has never heard of Uber, a service created in San Francisco in 2009 that allows passengers to save money, and to ordinary drivers to feel like taxi drivers and earn money by bringing those same passengers. Recently, however, the company has sought to replace living drivers with self-driving cars. Below, I've compiled everything you need to know about Uber's self-driving taxi program.
How it all began
After months of rumors and speculation, in February 2015, Uber first announced its intention to create a 'flotilla' of self-driving cars. And this happened the same week that Google announced its interest in autonomous car technology. Shortly thereafter, Arizona Governor Doug Ducy invited Uber to his state to test the new vehicle. However, the project originally started in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Uber hired a team of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and helped revitalize the Strip District with the opening of the Center for Excellence.
The first fleet of self-driving cars included 20 Ford Fusions, which felt like an armada at a time when self-driving vehicles seemed like science fiction. Each of them was equipped with 20 cameras, 7 lasers, radar and lidar. Soon, Uber began touring Pittsburgh for journalists, but in all cases, there was a driver at the wheel who would take over if an unforeseen situation arose.
Tests and incidents
After first experimenting with the Ford Fusion, the company opted for the Swedish SUV Volvo XC90. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto welcomed these Volvo with open arms, speaking of his desire to make the city a “21st century technology laboratory.” The company even built an artificial city outside of Pittsburgh to first test there and then release 100 test Volvo on real streets.
However, minor clashes and rule violations were quite common in the early months. The relationship between Uber and the Pittsburgh administration quickly soured. According to The New York Times, Bill Peduto kicked the company out of his city ahead of schedule. Apparently, Uber did not create enough jobs at the level that Peduto expected. Recently, relations between former partners are “on the mend.”
Uber also began testing its self-driving cars in its native San Francisco in December 2016, but the California Department of Motor Vehicles did not register these vehicles because Uber did not provide documents proving they were test vehicles. In late 2017, trials began in Canada, where the company placed two of its vehicles on the streets of Toronto.
In March of this year in Arizona, a self-driving Uber car hit a pedestrian crossing the road with a bicycle in the dark in an unlit place. The injured woman was taken to hospital where she died from her injuries. At the time of the accident, the car was in autonomous mode, and there was a person behind the wheel who could take over control in time. As it turned out later, the system detected a person 1.3 seconds before the collision, but did not warn the insuring driver about the danger, since it took the sensor signal for an error.
After that, the company began an internal investigation and implementation of new principles of the autopilot operation. On May 22, it announced an indefinite suspension of tests in Arizona, where there were about 300 self-driving Uber vehicles.
Waymo and Uber litigation
It is no coincidence that the announcement of Uber's self-driving cars happened at the same time as Waymo itself, a company founded after Google's transformation into Alphabet that develops self-driving systems for cars, Waymo said. Former Google employee Anthony Lewandowski is said to have downloaded 14,000 files related to self-driving cars before leaving, in order to later create Otto, a startup that develops autonomous driving technologies for trucks. Uber subsequently bought Otto in 2016 for $ 700 million, with Lewandowski taking over the self-driving car business.
The troubles began when one of the suppliers of parts for Uber accidentally sent an email to Google with information about the circuit board of the lidar, which, according to Google, looked the same as the one they had designed. Waymo ended up suing Uber in February 2017 for stealing trade secrets. The defendant stated that this was “an unfounded accusation aimed at slowing down a competitor”. The process began only on February 5, 2018 … and after a year of waiting, the issue was settled in just 4 days. Uber has given Waymo a $ 245 million stake and pledged to partner with Google to develop autopilot software for its taxis.
What will happen to Uber's self-driving car program in the future?
After the incident on March 18 this year, the fate of Uber's autonomous transport is in question, at least until an investigation into the accident is completed. But it is already known that the company completely stops testing in Arizona forever, but over time plans to resume them in the rest of the states and Pittsburgh. It is especially interesting to look at the way forward for Uber after Uber made the most expensive acquisition in the self-driving car industry last November 20, pledging to buy from Volvo 24,000 (24,000) XC90s, which the automaker will deliver between 2019 and 2021. . It is noteworthy that Volvo plans to create its own self-driving fleet by 2021.
On May 31, news arrived that the aforementioned Waymo would acquire 62,000 Chrysler Pacifica Malibu units. The irony is that a few days before it became known that due to weak sales, the Chrysler brand will soon cease to exist. Who knows, perhaps Waymo with such a huge order will manage to save the famous American manufacturer, at the same time expanding its fleet. And maybe Chrysler will disappear (by the way, this company had big plans to introduce autopilot in new models), and Waymo will be left with nothing.