Uber taxi drivers, it could spell the beginning of the end.

Uber has announced that passengers will be able to hail self-driving cars within weeks.

The firm said a number of its autonomous Ford Fusions will be available to pick up passengers in the American city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

At first the vehicles will be supervised by a driver, who can take the wheel if necessary, and an observer. Passengers will be able to opt in if they want a self-driving car, and rides will be free for those willing to hail one during the trial.

The San Francisco-based company, whose taxi service is used by millions in the UK, hailed the trial as an “important milestone that no automotive or technology company has yet achieved”.

Uber, which has a self-driving research lab in Pittsburgh, said it has no immediate plans to deploy self-driving cars beyond the Pittsburgh experiment. But its chief executive, Travis Kalanick, has said the future of Uber and all transport is driverless.

At a conference in 2014, after Silicon Valley rival Google unveiled its own self-driving car prototype, Mr Kalanick said: “When there’s no other dude in the car, the cost of taking an Uber anywhere becomes cheaper than owning a vehicle.

“So the magic there is, you basically bring the cost below the cost of ownership for everybody, and then car ownership goes away.”

Uber also announced on Thursday that it is working with Swedish carmaker Volvo on self-driving cars.

The two firms aim to begin self-driving trials – not involving passengers – in London next year, developing Volvo’s XC90 SUV which is partly autonomous and can accelerate, brake and steer on behalf of the driver.

Technology not quite ready yet

Self-driving cars are not yet ready for general use. The software is not advanced enough, while regulators have raised safety concerns and there is uncertainty over whether the public can ever trust robot drivers. These fears increased when 40-year-old Joshua Brown was killed when his self-driving Tesla car was involved in a collision with a truck in Florida in May. But technology giants and big car companies are locked in a race to launch driverless cars for the masses.

Ford has said it intends to have a self-driving vehicle on the road by 2021. The car will have neither a steering wheel nor pedals and will be rolled out for commercial ride-hailing services, not directly to consumers.

Google’s parent company Alphabet is even further ahead in pursuing driverless cars that offer passengers little control beyond an emergency stop button.

Google began testing its fleet of prototype self-driving cars on public roads in 2009.

The UK Government has pledged to be at the forefront of new technology for transport, including driverless and electric cars.

New legislation aims to get ordinary people buying and using driverless cars by 2020 by allowing them to be insured under regular car insurance policies.

Uber’s attempt to launch driverless cabs is likely to cause further anger among black cab drivers.

They have been hit by the soaring popularity of the taxi-hailing app, which tends to be much cheaper, but have protested that Uber has an unfair advantage as its drivers do not have to abide by the same stringent rules and regulations.

– Daily Mail

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