The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

Uber Will Start Driverless Service in Pittsburgh—This Month

Uber and Volvo are putting 100 cars on the road faster than anyone had expected

2 min read
Volvo and Uber will start a robo-ride-sharing service in Pittsburgh
Photo: Volvo

Driverless taxis are coming—right now. Later this month Uber will offer the world’s first ride-hailing service in Pittsburgh, using a test fleet of 100 Volvo XC90 SUVs.

I admit that I didn’t see it coming this fast. Only yesterday I wrote about a new trial of self-driving minibuses in Helsinki, and it seemed pretty darn forward looking at the time. But those vehicles are really slow, they ply the same little route repeatedly, and they stop at every stop.

That was so yesterday. Today Uber is talking about driving to points specified by whoever jumps into the rear seat. And it’s no mere one-off deal with Volvo, either: The two companies will collaborate on technology, including mapping, and Volvo intends to put what it learns into its other cars.

To be sure, two other outfits are already experimenting with robotaxis in Singapore—NuTonomy and Delphi. But the range of activity there is, for now, rather more limited than Uber’s planning in Pittsburgh, and far fewer cars are involved.

Uber also has bought Otto, a year-old startup filled with émigrés from Google and other robocar powerhouses. The idea is to equip Uber to deliver cargo within cities.

Most companies that are interested in robotic driving are now saying that they, too, hope to use it in car-hailing services. Ford—which earlier this month said it would bring true driverless cars to market in 2021—has also singled out ride sharing; it, too, is working with Uber.  

One beauty of ride sharing is that it lets Uber emulate Google by testing things out with a professional driver at the wheel, ready to take over if need be. But here the driver is doing two jobs—backing up the automation and conditioning customers to robodriving. A tablet computer in the back seat will explain what’s happening to the customers.

“The goal is to wean us off of having drivers in the car, so we don’t want the public talking to our safety drivers,” Raffi Krikorian, Uber’s engineering director, told Bloomberg

The Conversation (0)

We Need More Than Just Electric Vehicles

To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

11 min read
A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

VCG/Getty Images

EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

Keep Reading ↓Show less