Uber and Volvo Are Bringing Free, Self-Driving Cars to Pittsburgh This Month

And the app bought a self-driving truck startup

Uber's commitment to automated transportation was revved up today when it partnered with Volvo to give Pittsburgh commuters the opportunity to try out self-driving cars for free. Uber also bought Otto, a self-driving truck startup founded by a pair of former Google developers.

The Uber-Volvo agreement entails a $300 million program to develop self-driving vehicles by 2021. During the next couple of weeks, according to Bloomberg, Uber will let patrons in downtown Pittsburgh order from a fleet of self-driving cars—Volvo XC90 sport-utility vehicles—via their smartphones, representing a new achievement in the automotive sector. There will be no charge.

Bloomberg reports that the fleet will be overseen by a person in the driver's seat, and the cars will be souped-up with sensors that use cameras, lasers, radar and GPS receivers to enable a safe experience. "This alliance places Volvo at the heart of the current technological revolution in the automotive industry," said Håkan Samuelsson, Volvo CEO, said in a statement.

Travis Kalanick, Uber CEO, in a blog post said that the Volvo deal "is crucial to our self-driving strategy because Uber has no experience making cars. To do it well is incredibly hard, as I realized on my first visit to a car manufacturing plant several years ago. By combining Uber's self-driving technology with Volvo's state-of-the art vehicles and safety technology, we'll get to the future faster than going it alone."

Uber has a fairly similar deal with Toyota; though the language of that recent announcement revolved more around ride-sharing.

Kalanick said of the purchase of Otto, which has put four trucks on the road in a matter of months: "If that sounds like a big deal—well, it is."

The 90-employee, six-month-old company was founded by Anthony Levandowski and Lior Ron, both former high-level Google employees. They'll come on board with Uber to help drive its self-driving vehicle ambitions. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. 

In addition, according to Business Insider, Uber plans to open a pair of research-and-development facilities in San Francisco and Palo Alto, Calif.

Meanwhile, the self-driving space continues to heat up. On Monday, Ford revealed plans for an autonomous ride-sharing service.