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News Briefing: A driverless Uber-topia?

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The ideal of an autonomous fleet of shared vehicles, the ability to summon a “driverless Uber” whenever you need one, is seductive. It’s backed by a recent Morgan Stanley report, which states that the “two most important technological trends in automotive transportation are the sharing economy and autonomous driving”. It predicts that they will fuse into “shared autonomy”: a world of competing robotic taxi services.

Driverless Uber?

Unlikely to be the future driverless Uber. A Johnny Cab from Total Recall.

Clearly not wanting to be left behind, there have been a few stories recently about Uber‘s potential driverless car programme. Back in February, Uber announced a new “Advanced Technologies Centre” in Pittsburgh, where it will build temporary roadways to test self-driving cars. It has already hired a number of robotics engineers and earlier this month, recruited a top Ford executive to oversee its efforts. Meanwhile, Uber has partnered with the University of Arizona to focus on mapping and optics challenges involved in developing a fully autonomous vehicle.

The mystery of what Uber is up to is yet to be answered. Earlier this year, there were also reports that the company planned to buy thousands of Mercedes to convert to self-driving cars, but this year to be confirmed. What a fleet of robot cars means for the army of existing Uber drivers remains unclear. Uber’s founder, Travis Kalanick, didn’t really have an answer when pressed at the end of his TED talk in February (at around 17:30 in the video below). I’d recommend watching the whole talk, as it provides interesting insight into what Uber are doing today to get more people into fewer cars, with hugely positive environmental impacts.