Self-Driving Cars are on the Road

The age of self-driving vehicles has arrived. Uber is testing the world’s first fleet of autonomous ride-sharing vehicles on the streets of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

News reports indicate that the controversial unicorn has begun testing autonomous Ford Fusions; and will soon test Volvo XC90 self-driving SUVs, in the steel city. Some news stories indicate that Uber plans to test up to 100 self-driving vehicles with human drivers in the city.

The testing is being overseen by John Bares; the former head of Carnegie Mellon University’s National Robotics Engineering Center, Bloomberg reported. Bares was one of dozens of robotic experts Uber CEO Travis Kalanick hired away from the University last year. Kalanick travelled to Pittsburgh to launch the tests on August 18, 2016.

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During the test Uber customers in downtown Pittsburgh will get a choice of using a self-driving or a regular vehicle, Bloomberg reported. The vehicle will still have a human being in the driver’s seat.

News stories differ on which vehicles will be used in the test. Bloomberg reported that Volvos will be tested; while The Guardian reported that Ford Fusions will be deployed.

The test is historic because it will be the first largescale real-world test of self-driving vehicles in an urban environment. Many questions including those about insurance and liability will have to be answered.

Ford Plans to Offer World’s Fully Autonomous Car within Five Years

The vehicles Uber is testing are not truly self-driving or fully autonomous, instead only certain functions will be done by the car’s software. Ford (NYSE: F) is planning to do Uber one better by mass manufacturing the world’s first truly autonomous vehicle by 2021, Ars Technica reported.

“Starting in 2021, if you want to get around the city without the hassle of driving or parking, Ford’s new fully autonomous vehicle will be there for you,” Ford CEO Mark Fields told reporters on August 16, 2016. Fields traveled to the company’s Silicon Valley Research and Innovation Center in Palo Alto, California, from its headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan to make the announcement.

Ford wants to be the first company that reaches high automation or Level Four of self-driving car technology, Geek Crunch Reviews reported. Level Four means that the vehicle will be able to do most of the things a driver can do. Today’s self-driving cars only perform certain functions such as parking or passing.

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Volvo plans to test its own self-driving vehicle another Volvo XC90 SUV in London Next year. Uber and Volvo have signed a $300 million deal to develop self-driving car technology, The Guardian reported.

Volvo; which is owned by Chinese automaker Geely (OTC: GELYY), is trying to head off Ford and Fiat Chrysler (NYSE: FCAU) is trying to develop a self-driving minivan with Alphabet’s (NASDAQ: GOOG) help. Engineers from Alphabet’s Google subsidiary have set up shop at a Chrysler facility in Southeastern Michigan to develop the van.

Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOGL) and Chrysler plan to equip around 100 vans with autonomous technology in an attempt to commercialize the Google cars, Geek Crunch Review reported. The idea is to develop a vehicle that can be used for delivery and taxi purposes. Ford also expects to sell most of its self-driving vehicles for ridesharing or taxi purposes.

It looks as if the age of the self-driving taxi has arrived whether we want it or not. One has to wonder how the public, the government and the insurance industry will react.