Ridesharing giant Uber has teamed up with Volvo to test self-driving XC90s in real-world conditions on the steep, busy streets of San Francisco.
The fleet of SUVs will be part of a pilot program designed to help both Uber and Volvo gather data about self-driving cars. A spokesman for the Swedish brand told Digital Trends that the project is starting now. He couldn’t confirm how many XC90s will be dispatched in San Francisco, but he revealed the project will be significantly larger than the one Uber operates in Pittsburgh. Only customers who request an UberX will have the chance to ride in a driverless car, and they can ask for a human driver if they don’t feel comfortable participating in the pilot program.
The XC90s participating in the pilot program were assembled alongside the regular model built for customers and shipped to Uber’s workshop, where they were fitted with the company’s self-driving software. Visually, they stand out thanks to lidar equipment and an array of cameras on the roof. They’re fully stock otherwise, and more discreet than the Ford Fusions undergoing testing in Pennsylvania.
Uber explains that testing cars in San Francisco will allow it to learn how its technology reacts to varied weather, narrow lanes, and a relatively high traffic density. However, it’s taking a cautious approach to deploying autonomous cars on public roads. A technician will come along for the ride at all times to take notes on how the car handles different situations, and to take over in the event of an emergency.
Interestingly, Uber doesn’t believe it needs a permit to test the technology in San Francisco because a technician will always monitor the car. However, state and city officials haven’t reacted to the news.
“Several cities and states have recognized that complex rules and requirements could have the unintended consequence of slowing innovation,” the company points out in a press release. “Our hope is that California, our home state and a leader in much of the world’s dynamism, will take a similar view.”
How much a ride in a self-driving Volvo XC90 will cost hasn’t been disclosed, and Uber couldn’t be reached for comment.