Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Intelligent Machines

Uber’s Robotic Taxis Are Headed to San Francisco

Riders will be able to travel in one of the company’s new autonomous Volvo XC90s.

Uber is expanding its self-driving taxi service to San Francisco.

The ride-hailing company has announced that people hailing an UberX in San Francisco may soon find an autonomous car pulling up to greet them. The venture will be the first outing of the company’s latest autonomous vehicle—Volvo XC90s, bedecked with lidar systems and seven cameras to sense the world around them. According to the Wall Street Journal, just five cars will hit the city’s streets initially, with more being added over time.

Autonomous vehicles could transform the taxi industry by removing the need for human drivers. The company’s Pittsburgh trial, which has been underway for almost three months, and now this effort, are both attempts by Uber to widely deploy self-driving vehicles before its rivals. The MIT spin-off nuTonomy is also running small-scale autonomous taxi services in Singapore and Boston.

The cars are far from perfect. When MIT Technology Review’s Will Knight took a ride in one of those vehicles, he said “the car performed admirably in many difficult situations,” but also noted that “several times the person behind the wheel needed to take control: once so the car didn’t become stuck behind a truck, and once to avoid another vehicle making a sudden turn.”

There’s another sticking point as well. According to California’s Department of Motor Vehicles, as of December 8 Uber did not hold a permit for testing its autonomous cars in the state. In a statement, Uber said that it "understand[s] that there is a debate over whether or not we need a testing permit to launch self-driving Ubers in San Francisco," adding that it has "looked at this issue carefully" and decided that it doesn’t believe one is required. It remains to be seen if state officials will agree.

The ride-hailing firm may face more self-driving competition before long. Just yesterday, it was announced that the self-driving car technology being developed by Google will now operate as an independent company called Waymo. The news signals intent to commercialize its research, and sources tell Bloomberg that the company plans to deploy a ride-sharing service with Fiat Chrysler, using semi-autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans, as early as 2017.

(Read more: Uber, The Wall Street Journal, “Uber’s Pittsburgh Project Is a Crucial Test for Self-Driving Cars,” “My Self-Driving Uber Needed Human Help,” “What to Know Before You Get In a Self-Driving Car”)

AI is here.
Own what happens next at EmTech Digital 2019.

Register now
More from Intelligent Machines

Artificial intelligence and robots are transforming how we work and live.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.