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Uber to offer free autonomous rides later this month

by Jacob Kleinman | August 18, 2016August 18, 2016 12:00 pm PST

Uber is set to offer its first self-driving rides later this month in Pittsburgh, where it began testing the technology in public earlier this year. The company plans to match customers with the autonomous vehicles randomly and rides will be free as part of the initial pilot program, Bloomberg reports. The news comes in tandem with another announcement that Uber and Volvo will team up to build fully autonomous cars, which Uber will buy.

The company has been developing self-driving technology for years, but Uber CEO Travis Kalanick can’t wait any longer to start testing it out on actual customers.  “We are going commercial,” he told Bloomberg. “This can’t just be about science.”

Uber’s first self-driving cars are modified versions of the Volvo XC90 SUV that come jam-packed with extra cameras, radar, laser sensors and GPS. Volvo’s only finished a few of the new vehicles so far, but it’s set to deliver 100 models by the end of the year.

The company’s still legally required to put a human supervisor in the driver’s seat, and an audio warning will go off whenever they need to take the wheel. A second employee will also sit up front to take notes. Meanwhile, the backseat will include a special tablet to explain the new technology to each passenger.

It could still be years before fully autonomous cars hit the streets without any human behind the wheel. In the future, Uber plans to start charging for self-driving rides as it begins to phase out human drivers, but Kalanick says the price will still be significantly lower than a regular private car.


Jacob Kleinman

Jacob Kleinman has been working as a journalist online and in print since he arrived at Wesleyan University in 2007. After graduating, he took a...