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Uber set to deploy self-driving fleet within two weeks

The app-based ride sharing service is set to jump ahead decades by introducing the first commercial self-driving fleet to roads

In a move that appears to be catapulting the autonomous vehicle sector forwards decades, online transportation network Uber is set to release a commercial fleet of self-driving cars to the streets of Pittsburgh within a fortnight.

Details of a collaboration between Swedish vehicle manufacturers Volvo and Uber that would see a fleet of self-driving cars emerged this week, two years after Uber suggested that its end goal was to replace human drivers.

An Uber spokesperson told the BBC that starting this month Uber users in downtown Pittsburgh will be able to summon self-driving cars from their phones.

Those trips are set to be offered to customers for free for the time being, whereas normal Uber journeys are priced at £0.98 per mile.

The cars Uber are set to use are Volvo's SUV XC90 models and they've been equipped with a myriad of radar sensors and cameras. Only a small number will be on trail this month, however Uber are set to take delivery of 100 autonomous tech-equipped XC90s by the end of the year.

While talk of new and exciting technology is interesting, safety is arguably the major concern for the general public and vulnerable road users.

The noises coming out of the industry have consistently given the impression that autonomous vehicles - even at this early stage in their development - are significantly safer than human drivers; that's despite high profile incidents like the fatal collision involving one of American electric car specialist Tesla partially autonomous vehicles.

If we are going to listen to the experts, however, Uber's decision to team up with Volvo should give vulnerable road users confidence that their safety is of the upmost importance.

Where French vehicle manufacturer Renault's CEO Carlos Ghosn took a swipe at cyclists when announcing his company's plans for autonomous vehicles, Volvo has made a particular effort to ease fears over cycle safety.

> Volvo unveils its Cyclist Detection System with autonomous braking

At this point the cars that Uber users summon will have a highly trained engineer sat in the drivers seat with their fingertips on the wheel, ready to take over control of the vehicle should the car experience a situation it's not equipped to deal with.

During testing another engineer has been sat in the passenger seat making notes on a laptop. It's unclear whether the commercial fleet will require two engineers per car.

Uber's plans don't stop at ride sharing. The firm recently acquired driverless-truck startup Otto which would indicate - just as their venture into local delivery via bike messenger, UberRUSH, did - that the San Francisco firm are looking to develop an entire network of transport solutions, autonomous or not.

While Uber's moves to fast-track this Pittsburgh experiment appears to be bringing autonomous vehicles into a commercially viable position decades earlier than many experts anticipated Kalanick looked to put the brakes on any speculation that his drivers would soon be out of work.



Whether or not his tweet is to appease a workforce that is set to be obsolete in 15 years or just two or three remains to be seen, but it appears the wheels are definitely in motion for driverless cars to genuinely find a place in our world sooner rather than later. 

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