Uber and Volvo have signed an agreement that will lead to a jointly-developed autonomous vehicle, Volvo has announced.
The new vehicle will meet the demands of both companies to develop fully-autonomous driverless cars, the next generation of such vehicles that will move beyond the current assisted driving position.
Volvo confirms that the agreement will see a new base vehicle developed that uses Volvo's SPA modular platform that currently underpins the new Volvo XC90 amongst other Volvo models.
With Volvo and Uber investing a combined $300 million in the project, that new base vehicle will then be the platform for Uber to add its own autonomous systems to, while Volvo will use it as the next step in its own autonomous strategy.
That sees Uber getting access to a purpose-built vehicle from a manufacturer with safety as its primary ethos and allows Volvo to continue its own pursuit of safe driverless cars.
Although Volvo doesn't confirm a timeline for the delivery of such vehicles, Bloomberg says that the target date is 2021, and confirms the news that the first batch of Uber-Volvo test vehicles has been delivered to Pittsburgh for field testing. Pittsburgh is Uber's base for autonomous testing.
The Pittsburgh vehicles are adapted versions of the new Volvo XC90 and will operate as autonomous taxis, but with Uber engineers in the front seats. The test vehicles will join the Uber fleet, allowing passengers in Pittsburgh to request an Uber as normal; the Uber engineers will ensure the car drives safely.
The idea is to see how driverless vehicles work as taxis in the real world - fulfilling the vision of Johnny Cab from Total Recall - while Uber monitors exactly what's happening. Legally you still need a driver at the wheel and we're not quite at the stage where cars can be fully autonomous.
Bloomberg also reports that this isn't an exclusive deal and Uber is pursuing a number of avenues in achieving its driverless fleet goal; at the same time, Volvo is aggressively pushing forward with its plans for driverless vehicles too, with trials on the UK's roads scheduled for 2017. When Volvo confirmed those Drive Me London plans, again the date of 2021 was given for fully-autonomous driving.
Volvo has often said that its aim is to reduce the number of deaths causes by Volvo cars to zero and self-driving cars that cut out human error are seen as part of the solution: "Over one million people die in car accidents every year. These are tragedies that self-driving technology can help solve, but we can't do this alone," said Travis Kalanick, Uber chief executive.
"That's why our partnership with a great manufacturer like Volvo is so important. Volvo is a leader in vehicle development and best-in-class when it comes to safety. By combining the capabilities of Uber and Volvo we will get to the future faster, together."