Uber Technologies unveils new production Volvo XC90 SUV designed to "one day" support fully autonomous ridesharing – complete with both human and computer controls.

By Ian Horswill

Posted on June 13, 2019

Uber Technologies unveiled its newest Volvo self-driving rideshare car in Washington D.C. as it works to “one day” deploy vehicles without drivers under some limited conditions.

Uber Technologies said the new production XC90 SUV will be assembled by Volvo Cars in Sweden and have human controls like steering wheels and brake pedals, but also with factory-installed steering and braking systems designed for computer control.

Uber Advanced Technologies Group Chief Scientist Raquel Urtasun showed off the company’s artificial intelligence technology that allows it to drive autonomously for long distances on highways without maps and “on the fly” plot its course and navigate construction zones, reported Reuters.

“Our goal is get each one of you to where you want to go much better, much safer, cheaper,” Urtasun said.

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The announcement comes after Uber was found to be not criminally liable when a prototype Uber self-driving car, based on a Volvo XC90, hit and killed pedestrian Elaine Herzberg in Tempe, Arizona on March 18 last year.

However, the back-up driver, Rafaela Vasquez, could face charges of vehicular manslaughter. After the fatal accident, Uber immediately suspended testing of self-driving vehicles in Arizona and decided not to renew its permit for autonomous vehicle testing in California when it expired at the end of March 2018.

Several other companies, apart from Uber Technologies and Volvo, are working on deploying self-driving vehicles in limited areas.

Ford Motor Co’s majority-owned autonomous vehicle unit, Argo AI, launched its new fleet of self-driving test vehicles – Ford Fusion Hybrid – in Detroit on Wednesday, expanding to five US cities.

General Motors Co in January 2018 sought permission from US regulators to deploy a ridesharing fleet of driverless cars without steering wheels or other human controls before the end of 2019. To date, permission has not been granted.

Alphabet Inc’s Waymo unit is operating a robotaxi service in Arizona and said last month it’s partnering with Lyft Inc to serve more riders.

Uber had purchased about 250 Volvo XC90 SUVs and retrofitted them for self-driving use. The new vehicles – known by the internal code number 519G – will “soon” replace the older vehicles in Uber’s fleet, said Eric Meyhofer, the head of Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group.

“This is about going to production,” said Meyhofer in Washington.

The new vehicle has several back-up systems for both steering and braking functions as well as battery back-up power and new cybersecurity systems.

Uber is not ready to deploy vehicles without human controls, Meyhofer said.

“We’re still in a real hybrid state,” Meyhofer said. “We have to get there and we’re not going to get to thousands of cars in a city overnight. It’s going to be a slower introduction.”