The race to be first in self-driving cars has shifted up a gear after Volvo and Uber announced they were joining forces to develop autonomous vehicles.
The Swedish manufacturer and app-based ride-sharing company are together investing $300m in a project to develop “base vehicles” that will be built by Volvo and then purchased by Uber.
Each company will then fit these vehicles with their own self-driving technology to produce a road going car.
Competition to build the first fully self-driving car is intense. On Tuesday, Ford pledged to develop autonomous cars without steering wheels or pedals and have them on the roads within five years, adding that they would first be used for ride-sharing.
In late July, Tesla boss Elon Musk unveiled his “master plan, part deux”. His company is attempting to develop cars that will offer ride sharing when not being used by their owners.
Tech giants Apple and Google are also trying to break into the automotive market, with each working on their own self-driving cars.
Volvo and Uber described the tie-up as a “significant step”. They said that a car company joining forces with a tech business “underlined the way in which the global automotive industry is evolving in response to the advent of new technologies”. They added that it was a “longer term industrial partnership”.
Håkan Samuelsson, chief executive of Volvo Cars, which is owned by China’s Geely, said: “Volvo is a world leader in the development of active safety and autonomous drive technology and possesses an unrivalled safety credibility. This alliance places Volvo at the heart of the current technological revolution in the automotive industry.”
Travis Kalanick, Uber’s chief executive, said: “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. By combining the capabilities of Uber and Volvo we will get to the future faster, together.”
Volvo is already working with Uber, and will start trials of self-driving technology later this month in Pittsburgh using the manufacturer’s XC90 SUVs, though a driver will be on board to take over in case of emergencies. The ride-sharing business is also working with other manufacturers to test the technology.
The Swedish manufacturer has sought to take an early lead in driverless cars, having pledged that it will have self-driving systems in its cars by 2020.
In April, Volvo also said that it would launch tests of driverless cars on UK streets under its Drive Me London initiative, which will test the systems against some of the most demanding road conditions in the world.
Volvo said it planned to have real customers and their families in 100 self-driving Volvos in the UK within two years. A pilot scheme will start early in 2017 with Volvo engineers and test drivers from UK automotive tester Thatcham Group testing a “handful” of cars at first.
The company is understood to have picked the capital because of the challenge and because of the UK’s encouraging attitude towards autonomous technology.
The Queen’s Speech made self-driving cars a priority, and a recent report commissioned by trade body the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders concluded that if the UK sets itself on the right track, autonomous cars and the systems that connect them to the internet will deliver a £51bn annual boost to the economy by 2030, increasing UK GDP by 1pc. In the process, 320,000 jobs will be created.
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