Uber Plans to Have Autonomous Trips With No Human Backup in 2019

 Uber Plans to Have Autonomous Trips With No Human Backup in 2019

Author: Eric Walz   

DETROIT — Speaking to the Associated Press at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Uber's Advanced Technology Group leader Eric Meyhofer said that Uber plans to carry passengers in autonomous vehicles without human backup drivers in about the same time frame as its competitors, which is sometime next year.

However, Uber said they will not remove the backup driver from the vehicles until it it deemed completely safe.

"Once we can check that box, which we call passing the robot driver's license test, that's when we can remove the vehicle operator," Meyhofer said in an interview at an auto industry investors conference in Detroit. "We're going aggressively too." he added.

Uber began testing its driverless cars in Pittsburgh in 2016. The company started testing in the city of San Francisco in December of 2016. That program was shut down after Uber failed to apply for a California DMV permit required to test autonomous vehicles in the state. As a result, the California DMV revoked the registrations of Uber's test fleet.

Without valid registrations in California, Uber shipped the vehicles to the Phoenix metro area, where the company's is also its testing autonomous technology. Uber is working alongside Waymo in the Phoenix metro area. Waymo is currently operating autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans there without human backups and plans to carry passengers soon. General Motors Co.'s Cruise Automation, which is based in San Francisco, has pledged to start testing autonomous vehicles without a backup driver sometime next year in an unnamed location.

Meyhofer said Uber's fleet of Volvo XC90 SUVs are currently being prepped for the work. The company has a 215 test vehicles carrying passengers with human backups in Phoenix, San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Toronto. The fleet logs 80,000 miles per week gathering data and have given 50,000 paid Uber rides.

In November, Uber announced that it plans to buy up to 24,000 self-driving cars from Volvo. In a statement at the time, Volvo said it would provide Uber with its flagship XC90 SUVs equipped with autonomous technology as part of a non-exclusive deal from 2019 to 2021.

The developments were announced as a court case between Uber and Waymo is pending. Waymo filed suit against Uber, alleging that one of its top self-driving car engineers, Anthony Levandowski, stole trade secrets and IP before founding self-driving truck startup Otto. Uber purchased Otto from Levandowski for $680 million in August of 2016. Uber has denied the allegations.

Eric Walz
Eric Walz
Originally from New Jersey, Eric is an automotive and technology reporter specializing in the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley. Eric has over fifteen years of automotive experience and a B.A. in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the automotive industry and beyond. He has worked on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology. Outside of work, Eric likes to travel to new places, play guitar, and explore the outdoors.
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