Uber’s first self-driving car is ready for the road

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Uber Technologies Inc. has unveiled a third-generation version of its self-driving car that has been developed in partnership with Volvo. The company is betting its self-driving future on their new autonomous vehicle, which it plans to test on the street in San Francisco and Toronto later this year. It’s a crawl-walk-run approach to autonomous driving that Uber says comes with a renewed focus on safety.

The new XC90 SUV will be built to fit Uber’s self-driving technology. This time around, Uber and Volvo are building more redundancy into the vehicle. The car will still have a steering wheel and pedals, but Uber says it’s been designed to ultimately operate without a human behind the wheel.

The timing of the announcement isn’t ideal. While Uber’s self-driving division recently got a dedicated CEO and an influx of cash, its program remains clouded by the fatal 2018 crash. The company has yet to resume testing on a similar scale and has instead conducted only limited tests. The Volvo arrangement is a sign that Uber is still committed to autonomy in the long run, but the situation isn’t quite as rosy as it was when the company announced the deal nearly two years ago.

The fatal crash halted Uber’s self-driving car program as the company conducted a top-to-bottom safety review. They added a second safety-driver and technology to monitor them for distraction. Uber resumed limited on road testing in Pittsburgh last December, but most of the development work is happening on the site of an old steel mill. The cars are cautious. They operate at 25 miles an hour or less allowing more decision time, sometimes more than a human driver would need. Even Uber admits they sometimes fail tests. Meyhofer said, “Our approach isn’t going to be, ‘It’s ready, hey everybody, it’s ready, trust us.’ Our approach is, it’s not ready yet. This vehicle is not ready yet. We believe that this vehicle can do it. But today, it isn’t there.”

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