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Uber and Volvo unveil next-generation driverless vehicle

Image credit: volvo

Uber has unveiled its latest driverless car, manufactured by Volvo, as it seeks to ramp up its autonomous vehicle programme once again, following a more cautious review period after the incident in March 2018 when one of its vehicles hit and killed a woman in Arizona, USA.

While the Volvo XC90 SUV does include driverless functionality, it will still come with human controls such as a steering wheel and brake pedal, elements that will ultimately be eliminated from autonomous vehicles. It is also the first production car capable of full driverless control.

Although they can still be operated by humans, the factory-installed steering and braking systems in the vehicle have been designed with computer control in mind.

Several back-up systems for both steering and braking functions have also been included, as well as battery back-up power. If any of the primary systems should fail for some reason, the back-up systems are designed to immediately act to bring the car to a stop.

In addition to Volvo’s built-in back-up systems, an array of sensors both atop and built into the vehicle are designed for Uber’s self-driving system to safely operate and manoeuvre in an urban environment.

The company is working hard to regain public trust after the 2018 crash, for which Uber was ultimately found not criminally liable.

Raquel Urtasun, the chief scientist for Uber Advanced Technologies Group, the subdivision working on the technology, said the XC90 is capable of driving autonomously for long distances on highways without maps and “on the fly” to plot its course and navigate construction zones.

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

Previously, Uber purchased about 250 Volvo XC90 SUVs and retrofitted them for self-driving use.

The new vehicles - known by the internal code number 519G and under development for several years - are safer, more reliable and will replace the older vehicles in Uber’s fleet “soon,” according to Eric Meyhofer, the head of Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group.

“This is about going to production,” Meyhofer said in an interview at an Uber conference in Washington earlier this week, adding that the company is not ready to deploy vehicles without human controls yet.

“We’re still in a real hybrid state,” he 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.”

The new XC90 vehicles also have an interior fish-eye camera to scan for lost items, Uber said. They also do not have sunroofs, since the self-driving vehicles have large sensors on the roof and are equipped with auto-close doors to prevent an unsafe departure.

Uber has taken delivery of about a dozen prototypes of the new vehicle, but has not yet deployed them on public roads. It said the car’s “self-driving system will one day allow for safe, reliable autonomous ridesharing without the need” for a safety driver.

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