Executives at ride-hailing app companies like Lyft and Uber have long dreamed of having fleets of vehicles that can shuttle humans around cities without the hassle of actually having to pay human drivers. Starting at the end of this month in Pittsburgh, Uber will come closer to that goal than anyone has before with a fleet of autonomous Volvo XC90 SUVs, all summoned by phone to take passengers where they want to go.
The two companies announced a $300 million partnership this morning to deploy the cars for use in a major city, the first of its kind for any traditional automaker or tech company. There is, however, one big catch: for now the autonomous Volvos will be supervised by human drivers.
Bloomberg Businessweek makes very clear what Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s goal is: “to replace Uber’s more than 1 million human drivers with robot drivers—as quickly as possible.” While “robot drivers” aren’t ready for prime time yet, Volvo is one of the current leaders in autonomous driving technology—though its system is not quite as advanced as the Autopilot system offered by Tesla. (And after several high-profile crashes this summer, many questions have been raised about just how ready Autopilot is as well.)