In just over a year — in a city somewhere in the United States — your Uber could pick you up without a driver behind the wheel.
That’s one of the major revelations from Uber’s announcement Monday that the technology company plans to buy up to 24,000 self-driving cars from Volvo, a purchase that marks a significant departure from Uber’s existing business model in which private car owners make up the company’s fleet.
Though Uber operates self-driving taxis, a human operator is always present inside the vehicle. As early as 2019, company officials said, the driver will no longer be present in the self-driving Volvos that are likely to begin appearing on roads in several American cities.
“We’re moving aggressively,” Jeff Miller, Uber’s head of automotive alliances, said. “As soon as the technology is ready there is a manufacturing machine that is ready to go and we can push the ‘make car button’ and we’ll have clear path to having tens of thousands of self-driving vehicles on the road.
“That’s the product of three plus years of hard work across the company,” he added.
Miller said the company hasn’t determined which cities the self-driving Volvos will operate in, but noted that the company’s initial focus will likely be in the United States, where Uber has test fleets in San Francisco, Phoenix and Pittsburgh. Despite the push toward vehicles without drivers, Miller said Uber drivers should not worry about being phased out of the company’s long-term plans.
“We have millions of drivers that operate on our platform every day around the world,” he said, calling the 24,000 Volvos “a fraction” of the Uber vehicles on the road. “There will always be a role for human-driven vehicles. You’re going to see a hybrid fleet of human and robot-driven vehicles.”