Uber is partnering with the University of Arizona on a new project to develop the mapping and optics technologies necessary for fully autonomous vehicles, according to an article from The Verge. Uber will be working with experts from the university who specialize in lens design, and will use their expertise to improve camera imaging for mapping and safety features.
Autonomous cars require advanced cameras – as well as other sensors – to map their surroundings and avoid obstacles on the road. Uber will keep several autonomous test cars at the university, according to the office of the governor of Arizona.
Uber might have more to gain than any other company from the development and adoption of autonomous cars. If it could replace the cost of paying its drivers with autonomous cars, Uber could dramatically reduce its prices to the point that taking Uber rides everywhere would be a cheaper transportation option for most people than owning a car. Analyst firm ARK Research forecasted earlier this year that Uber rides in autonomous cars would cost passengers 25 cents per mile. Right now the cost of an UberX taxi ride is about $2.15 per mile, according to ARK.
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If Uber is able to slash its prices that much with autonomous cars, it could be a disaster for auto manufacturers. A Barclays analyst note predicted earlier this year that ride-hailing services like Uber or Lyft that connect passengers with autonomous taxi cars would cut US auto sales by 40% in the next 25 years. Barclays projected that each autonomous taxi car would replace nine privately owned automobiles on the road right now.
Uber has other autonomous car projects underway. The company has a robotics center in Pittsburgh that has hired a number of top robotics researchers away from Carnegie Mellon University. With so much potential benefit from the technology, Uber will likely continue to pour resources into developing autonomous cars, and push for regulations that accommodate autonomous vehicles once they’re ready for the public.
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