Conjure up your best image of the distant future. For me, everything is more or less the same, but we all dress like Jetsons characters and live in moon igloos. Oh, and all the cars hover, and drive themselves.
Did I say distant? I meant four months.
No, not for hover capabilities or moon igloos, those are still a while off (although this hover-board from Lexus looks promising). But Volvo and Uber just promised to put autonomous cars on the road by the end of this year.
According to a press release from Volvo, they will be sending base vehicles to Uber, who will apply their own autonomous technology to the cars. According to Automotive news, they plan to have a 100-vehicle fleet on the roads of Pittsburgh by December 2016.
My annual holiday ride to the Pittsburgh airport could be in a self-driving car.
“Over one million people die in car accidents every year. These are tragedies that self-driving technology can help solve, but we can’t do this alone,” said Travis Kalanick, Uber’s chief executive. “That’s why our partnership with a great manufacturer like Volvo is so important. Volvo is a leader in vehicle development and best-in-class when it comes to safety. By combining the capabilities of Uber and Volvo we will get to the future faster, together.”
Their press release comes hot on the tails of Ford’s announcement earlier this week that they would have a self-driving car on the road by 2021.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Ford President and CEO Mark Fields announced the company’s intention to build a fully self-driving Society of Automotive Engineers-rated level 4-capable vehicle, and to beat everyone else to market.
The car, which could be the first ever made without a steering wheel and brakes, is designed for commercial mobility services like ride sharing. So either way, Uber’s about to get a lot less sketchy.
There’s a lot of work to do to make this a reality, and Ford is not wasting time. This year, they’re doubling their autonomous test fleet, and next year they’ll triple it. That’ll make 90 self-driving Fusion Hybrid sedans on the road in California, Arizona and Michigan.
They are also expanding their California campus. They’ll add two buildings containing 150,000 square feet of work and lab space to their existing Research and Innovation center in Palo Alto.
To further root themselves into the Silicon Valley community (and to gain access to the best technology available), they’re investing in and collaborating with four small start-ups that develop technology related to mapping roads and detecting obstacles.
With the autonomous media landscape dominated by Google and Tesla, it may surprise you to learn that Ford has been working on a fully autonomous car for the last 10 years. They were the first automaker to research autonomy at night, and the first to test-drive an autonomous vehicle in the snow. Which I think may have been an accident — Detroit snows are wildly unpredictable.
And boy, Ford really captured the moment this week. With Tesla taking two steps back for every one forward, it was starting to feel like our futuristic vision was still decades away. In one press conference, Ford positioned themselves to become a leader in autonomous driving, just as they led the market 100 years ago.
The Ford conference contained a road map for accomplishing their goal. The Volvo release was a little lighter on the detail, stressing that Volvo and Uber would “collaborate” to get this done. Uber has yet to issue a public release, though they have given some detail to Automotive News.
If Automotive News is correct and Uber plans to make this happen in less than four months, we hope their plans go deeper than corporate management buzzwords.
In addition, there seems to be more time put into Ford’s efforts.
Uber’s Autonomous driving research facility has only been open 20 months. With the right scientists, coders, and research, they could certainly still be ahead of the curve, and they will receive help from Volvo’s research department. I’m just saying it seems optimistic.
Whoever crosses the finish line first, it looks like we’ll be able to kick back and nap on the long rides across the Ohio Turnpike pretty soon. Then once this is done, they can move on to the Hover Car. That’s what we’re really waiting for.