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A $300 million joint venture between the driving service Uber and the car manufacturer Volvo plans to make rides a lot less chatty in the near future. Using Volvo’s existing autonomous driving technology, a fleet of Uber-dedicated cars will soon be available to take passengers in the Pittsburgh area wherever they want to go, without anyone touching the wheel.

The plans for the joint venture include the purchase by Uber of 100 XC90 SUVs from Volvo, all of which feature hybrid plug-in capacity and self-driving technologies. The fleet will be on the streets by the end of this year, giving riders a chance to experience technology for themselves. For the foreseeable future, the cars will still have an actual person in the driver’s seat, but the plans indicate that this role is mainly a supervisory and safety feature, not a requirement. Furthermore, all signs point to the ultimate goal of driverless cars, spinning around town, picking up passengers on their own.lo-res_dy8pxw-s

In addition to Volvo’s existing technology, the autonomous cars will integrate some of Uber’s own developed tools, such as additional cameras and sensors to facilitate the process. This technology was largely developed in a plant that Uber opened in Pittsburgh two years ago, which offers some explanation for why the test is taking place in that city.

But Uber makes it clear that it hopes to expand the options to other cities, and it leaves open the possibility that it might collaborate with other automakers in the future. Reportedly, it interviewed many automakers and ultimately selected Volvo on the basis of its reputation for safety and its existing technological capabilities.

The two partners in this joint venture both are contributing to the costs of getting it up and running. What is less clear is the cost for consumers, namely, whether a ride in a driverless car will invoke a rate that is higher than a conventional Uber ride. Some consumers appear excited at the prospect of a futuristic experience in an autonomous car (or maybe just love the idea that they won’t face an overly chatty driver). Others might have opposite preferences, such that they might avoid a technology that has not been fully vetted and proven yet.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Would you ride in a driverless Uber?
  2. Would you be willing to pay more, the same, or less for a ride in an autonomous vehicle?

Source: Richard Truett, “Uber Partners with Volvo to Put Self-Driving SUVs on U.S. Roads by Year-End,” Advertising Age, August 18, 2016

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