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Autonomous Vehicles

Published on December 15th, 2016 | by James Ayre


Uber’s Autonomous Volvo XC90s Now Testing In San Francisco

December 15th, 2016 by  

Building on its ongoing self-driving tech pilot in Pittsburgh, Uber has begun trialling the use of autonomous Volvo XC90s in San Francisco, according to reports.

Image credit: Volvo

These “autonomous” Volvo XC90s, as with those being trialled in Pittsburgh, are host to both a safety driver and to a test engineer — who can take over if need be — rather than actually being entirely autonomous (yet). The idea of course is to phase these safety drivers out as the tech continues improving.

San Francisco is a very different city, topographically and in other regards, than Pittsburgh, so the expansion is very interesting. (There have already been some reports of one of Uber’s self-driving Volvos running a red light in San Francisco, demonstrating the point.)

Image credit: Volvo

Tech Crunch provides more: “Uber ATG Head of Product Matt Sweeney told me in an interview that this third-generation vehicle actually uses fewer sensors than the Fords that are on the roads in Pittsburgh, though the loadout still includes a full complement of traditional optical cameras, radar, LiDAR, and ultrasonic detectors. He said that fewer sensors are required in part because of the lessons learned from the Pittsburgh rollout, and from their work studying previous generation vehicles; with autonomy, you typically start by throwing everything you can think of at the problem, and then you narrow based on what’s specifically useful, and what turns out not to be so necessary.”

Continuing: “During our demo, the act of actually leaving the curb and merging into traffic was handled by the safety driver on board, but in eventual full deployment of these cars the vehicles will handle even that tricky task. The iPad shows you when you’re in active self-driving mode, and also when it’s been disengaged and steering is being handled by the actual person behind the wheel instead. The screen also shows you a simplified version of what the autonomous car itself ‘sees,’ displaying on a white background color-coded point- and line-based rudimentary versions of the objects and the world surrounding the vehicle. Objects in motion display trails as they move through this real-time virtual world.”

The San Francisco pilot is apparently being limited to the downtown area as a start, but will be expanded following early success, according to the company.


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About the Author

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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