Attention Yinzers: Don't be alarmed if the next Uber you call shows up doused in weird sensors and a driver actively avoiding the steering wheel. Starting this month, Uber and Volvo will be offering rides in self-driving cars for Pittsburgh residents—and better yet, it'll be totally free.
Uber and Volvo Cars are coming together to make driverless taxi rides a reality, Volvo announced in a statement Thursday. The Swedish automaker and the ride-hailing company together are investing $300 million into a project to further the development of autonomous car technology. As part of their partnership, Volvo is providing Uber with XC90 SUVs which the ride-sharing company will be outfitting with camera-based, laser-based, and radar-based sensors and GPS modules to make them fully autonomous for ride-sharing services in Pittsburgh, Bloomberg reports. So far, Uber has received only a few XC90s, but its fleet will grow to 100 by the end of 2016.
Though the cars will be fully autonomous, they will still have steering, brake, and throttle controls, and an engineer will sit behind the wheel to take over in case the vehicle's systems have issues. Another Uber employee will be stationed in the front passenger seat, tasked with recording notes and monitoring the car's actions. Everything the car does will be documented using cameras placed inside and outside the vehicle, Bloomberg reports.
Riders for the autonomous XC90 SUVs will be selected at random when a ride is requested using the Uber app. For the time being, those selected to ride in the self-driving car will not be charged for their trip.
As for the $300 million joint investment, Volvo is developing a new car that the two companies will use for their own future autonomous car schemes. The car will be based on Volvo's Scalable Product Architecture platform, which underpins the current XC90, S90, and V90 models. When the new vehicle is finished, Uber will purchase them directly from Volvo for their own autonomous vehicle usage. This car is expected to be ready by 2021, Bloomberg reports.
Uber also announced Thursday that it bought out Otto, a small San Francisco-based technology startup that develops autonomous driving kits for tractor trailers. Going forward, Otto co-founder Anthony Levandowski will be Uber's go-to guy for the company's push into self-driving car engineering.