Uber's self-driving cars will start picking up passengers this month

Uber wants to be first to market with driverless cars and replace its human-powered fleet of drivers with robots.

Uber's rushing to replace its million-plus drivers with robots, and the company's early forays towards that effort start in Pennsylvania later in August. The ride-sharing service plans to roll out self-driving cars in Pittsburgh that will accept real world passengers right from the get-go, according to Bloomberg.

The cars, while fully autonomous, won’t be unleashed onto Pittsburgh streets without human supervision. The cars will have a specially-trained engineer ready to take the wheel should something go wrong. There will also be a co-pilot taking notes on how each ride goes.

The impact on you at home: For Uber riders, any trips in a driverless car will initially be free. It’s not clear how long that “deal” will last, but presumably it will be for an extended period so that Uber can gain as much data as possible about using self-driving cars in the real world. It appears thrifty Uber riders will not be able to request self-driving cars, however. Instead, the autonomous vehicles will be assigned to Uber customers at random.

Only the beginning

Uber has ordered 100 autonomous vehicles from Volvo due for delivery by the end of the year. Uber and Volvo are teaming up to develop autonomous driver technology with an aim to be road-ready by 2021.

As with Google and other driverless car makers, it will be immediately obvious which cars have autonomous technology and which do not. Each autonomous Uber car will be a Volvo XC90 equipped with cameras, radar, lasers, and GPS. Renderings in the Bloomberg story suggest the equipment on Uber’s Volvos will be a little sleeker than Google’s fleet; however, the vehicles will still have a large roof-mounted setup.

Uber's rushing headlong into self-driving cars in the hopes of beating back Google and others who are moving more cautiously. Rumors of Google’s plans to use its driverless cars to create a competing ride-sharing service apparently spooked Uber.

“The minute it was clear to us that our friends in Mountain View were going to be getting in the ride-sharing space, we needed to make sure there is an alternative [self-driving car],” Uber CEO Travis Kalanick told Bloomberg. “Because if there is not, we’re not going to have any business.”

Rumors that Uber plans to change its name to Johnny Cab once driverless cars are road-ready could not be immediately confirmed.

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