Uber and Volvo have entered into an industrial partnership to collaborate on autonomous car development, the two companies announced today. The deal will see Volvo sell 100 cars to Uber by the end of the year (a few have been delivered already) along with a longer-term project to work together on new vehicles that will incorporate autonomous driving tech.
Initially, Volvo will sell Uber XC90 SUVs prepped for Uber’s autonomous vehicle control package, but not include any of its own advanced self-driving technology. Uber will then outfit the cars with autonomous driving technology it has developed in house.
"The alliance marks the beginning of what both companies view as a longer term industrial partnership," said a Volvo press release. It doesn’t appear that the companies will be collaborating on the autonomous driving technology itself. Instead, Volvo will work on its own autonomous tech apart from Uber, though they will share the underlying vehicle platforms.
A new autonomous vehicle will be built on Volvo’s Scalable Product Architecture, the same platform as its XC90, S90, and V90 cars, and the collaboration between Uber and Volvo will focus on the development of that vehicle. Both companies will use that vehicle for their next stage of autonomous vehicle development.
With Uber beginning public trials of its autonomous car technology, using a mix of Volvo’s XC90 and Ford Fusion sedans, some safety concerns have been raised about rolling out the technology before it’s ready. The PR fallout from the crash of a semi-autonomous Tesla back in May has unsettled many.
"There has been no demonstration that Uber's robot cars are safe," said John Simpson of Consumer Watchdog. "It is unconscionable to offer rides to passengers at this stage. We can only hope nobody is hurt in this outrageous PR stunt."
Volvo has long been known for its fanatical focus on safety and it’s possible that Uber is hoping some of that will rub off on its autonomous vehicle project. That said, Volvo’s DriveMe technology, which will enter public trials next year in Sweden, the US, the UK, and China, won’t be used by Uber. Volvo is providing the vehicle infrastructure, but Uber is ultimately responsible for the functionality and safety of its autonomous driving technology.
With the announcement, the autonomous ride-sharing industry gets even more crowded. Earlier this week, Ford announced plans to develop an autonomous vehicle for ride-sharing fleets by 2021, and GM has teamed up with Lyft to develop self-driving cars as well.
Correction: This article previously said John Simpson worked for Consumer Reports. He is the Privacy Project Director for Consumer Watchdog.