Ride-hailing giant Uber will begin rolling out its self-driving cars publicly sometime within the next 18 months, according to CEO Dara Khosrowshahi. Sitting down with Bloomberg Editor-In-Chief John Micklethwait to talk about the future of the company, Khosrowshahi mentioned that the firm’s self-driving cars were nearly ready for primetime, and would begin making their way onto public roads throughout the United States within the aforementioned timeframe. The wide timeline leaves a lot of ambiguity, but with mainstream self-driving cars predicted to develop in 2020, an initial public rollout in 2019 is likely. Uber is already hosting public test runs of autonomous vehicles in some markets, though this testing is decidedly limited, both by fleet size and location.
Hinting further at the nature of Uber’s future operations, Khosrowshahi dropped three keywords; “autonomous,” “electric,” and “shared.” According to Khosrowshahi, all three of these are the necessary tenets of the ride-hailing industry and transportation, in general, going forward. The company has toyed with the idea of a fully electric fleet in the past. Many visions of the future of private transportation point to people generally not owning self-driving cars, but rather hailing shared units. This means that Khosrowshahi’s words fit in with an industry consensus, and may well end up being the way of things in the near future.
Uber’s self-driving cars were once studied and found to require being taken over by a human driver after about 1 mile of autonomous driving, on average. There has been a lot of time for Uber’s autonomous vehicle systems to improve since then, and it’s almost inevitable that things will be better this time around, or Uber most likely would not be planning a public rollout in the immediate future. Regardless, between the general public and United States lawmakers, one of the biggest things that need to happen for the field to advance is for people to trust self-driving cars. If Uber is one of the first out of the gate with nationwide, publicly available autonomous vehicles, the firm has the chance to serve as an ambassador of sorts for the technology, which is a role that is not to be taken lightly.