Uber has proved its dedication to being at the forefront of new technology, after it decided to buy 24 000 Volvo sport utility vehicles to create its very own fleet of autonomous cars. The XC90 SUV’s will be delivered to Uber from 2019 to 2021, where the app-based taxi company will then add its own software to the cars to make them autonomous. The technology for the XC90 SUV’s has been developed by both Volvo and Uber engineers, and 100 have already been test driven in Pittsburgh,
United States. Uber also has a smaller fleet of Ford Fusions, that it is currently test driving. According to the head of auto alliances at Uber, Jeff Miller, “this new agreement puts us on a path towards mass produced self-driving vehicles at scale.”
While the project may seem full steam ahead, it has not been without its problems. Uber was sued in 2017 by Alphabet Inc who claimed sensitive information was stolen from them and used by Uber, testing was temporarily suspended after a crash occurred during testing in Arizona, and Uber had to suspend its autonomous car service in San Francisco in 2016 after they did not correctly register their fleet.
As autonomous cars are fast becoming a reality, how will this affect the South African motorist when they make their way to the Southern hemisphere? Latest statistics show that 14 071 people died on South Africa’s road in 2016, with human related factors accounting for the majority of deaths at 77.5%, environmental factors at 16.5% and vehicle related factors at 6%. This type of software removes the elements of human fatigue and misjudgement, enabling it to navigate at an optimal level at all times. South Africa’s road fatalities may just be reduced if the technology is successful.
With the human element eradicated, Car Insurance companies might also have to rethink their existing policies. As premiums are determined by a number of factors, some being a person’s driving behaviour and even age, policies may no longer be able to include these features when premiums are allocated. And while the human element may be downsized, other elements will be added such as the breakdown or even hacking of the software used to make a car autonomous. This could ultimately shift the responsibility of paying for damage to a car to the manufacturer, rather than the insurer as more accidents could be as a result of the manufacturer’s error and not the driver’s.
While the true effects of this technology might not be fully known yet, the future of autonomous cars is most certainly developing fast. Uber has not revealed when its autonomous fleet will be ready, but it is confident that its technology will be available to all in the industry.