Uber will introduce self-driving taxis in Pittsburgh as soon as this month, the company announced.
"Starting later this month, Uber will allow customers in downtown Pittsburgh to summon self-driving cars from their phones, crossing an important milestone that no automotive or technology company has yet achieved," an Uber spokeswoman told the BBC.
"In Pittsburgh, customers will request cars the normal way, via Uber's app, and will be paired with a driverless car at random. Trips will be free for the time being, rather than the standard local rate of $1.30 per mile."
The effort will involve specially equipped Volvo XC90 sport-utility vehicles with two Uber employees sitting in the front seats of each vehicle to provide emergency backup and observation, The Wall Street Journal reported.
"The technology is going to happen because the promise is so real," Uber CEO Travis Kalanick told The Wall Street Journal. "It’s existential. We have to have all the best minds working on this."
The effort, which aims to have 100 self-driving cars in Pittsburgh, signals a breakthrough in commercialization of the technology and places Uber at the forefront of the race toward new technologies.
Other companies exploring autonomous vehicles include Google, which has been testing a fleet of self-driving cars; Tesla Motors, which offers a sort of advanced cruise control called Autopilot; and Ford, which has announced plans for an autonomous ride-sharing service, Bloomberg reported.
Uber and Volvo signed a $300 million deal to develop fully autonomous cars by 2021, and Uber plans to partner with other automakers, Bloomberg said. Last month, Uber announced an agreement to buy driverless truck startup Otto.
While some have expressed concerns about the potential loss of jobs to automated technologies, Kalanick told USA Today that a demand would remain.
"This isn't an overnight thing, it'll take a really long time," he said. "But let's take a city like San Francisco. Let's say over a decade or two we go from 30,000 cars on the (Uber) system to a million. Well, there will still be routes then that software can't do, it'll be too hard. So you'll need drivers in those software-equipped cars to help out. And way out, if everything's autonomous, you'll need tens of thousands of people to maintain a fleet of a million cars. So the jobs are there."
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