No one is sure what will be the future of self-driving vehicles or how long until they become commonplace. However, every big player currently involved is entering partnerships to be ready for when autonomous vehicles are finally mainstream.
Included in that group is Uber, which announced on Monday a deal with Volvo. This deal will see Uber purchase up to 24,000 Volvo self-driving cars once that technology is ready for production, putting those vehicles into its extensive network for ride-hailing.
Everything that Uber is doing currently is about building self-driving vehicles at scale, says Jeff Miller the head of automotive alliances at Uber.
No one, said Miller can expect what an autonomous world is going to look like, but Uber knows it wants its platform to be at the center of that world, from the standpoint of ride-hailing and ride-sharing.
This deal is an extension of one Uber and Volvo made close to two years ago, at a time when the ride-hailing company began its R&D efforts for autonomous cars in a big way.
Uber has been working with third-party manufacturers of components to build hardware and software for autonomous cars, then worked with Volvo to help outfit the XC90 vehicles of the automaker with that technology.
However, the latest deal increases vastly the number of driverless Volvo cars that Uber will be able to work with, which shows the scope of Uber’s ambitions.
Volvo, which is Sweden-based and owned by China’s Geely Automobile Holdings, said through a prepared statement that Uber and Volvo were each contributing $300 million to this project.
From automakers such as Ford, General Motors and Tesla to tech companies such as Uber, Lyft and Google, the leaders of the transportations industry are in a race to gain any edge possible in the future of the autonomous vehicle.
Each player has approached these issues differently. Automakers such as Ford and GM have dished out billions purchasing startups that are software based to work on the integrations of driverless technology into their upcoming vehicles.
Tesla long ago offered a hybrid version of software for self-driving in its different vehicles, and recently debuted a nearly autonomous, electric semi-truck it expects will be available over the next couple of years.
Uber has completed most of the work in-house for its research and development rather than partnering with different manufacturers, which is what Lyft has done. In particular, Uber invested in Advanced Technologies Group, which is its own, and home to dozens of engineers located in Pittsburgh, where it does much of its research for autonomous vehicles.