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Why Uber CEO Travis Kalanick Is Betting Big On Self-Driving Cars

“You can’t call yourself a technology company if you’re resisting technological progress.”

Why Uber CEO Travis Kalanick Is Betting Big On Self-Driving Cars
[Photo: Flickr user Steve Jurvetson]

As Uber continues to expand its carpooling service and make forays abroad, CEO Travis Kalanick believes the next natural step for his company–albeit an ambitious, far-off one–is to make its cars autonomous. Fast Company‘s new cover story reports that each shared self-driving car could supplant up to 10 regular cars–and in a city with public transportation, introducing driverless cars could cut the number of vehicles on the road by 65% during peak hours.

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By cutting drivers out of the equation, Uber could save money that would go toward paying them and do away with costs inflicted by car ownership. Kalanick’s vision to convert Uber vehicles into autonomous cars also aligns with his ultimate goal of disrupting public transit through carpooling–all while remaining a cutting-edge tech company:

That’s just the start of the company’s efforts to reinvent public transportation. Earlier this year, Uber reportedly poached dozens of members of the Carnegie Mellon University robotics department for a driverless-car initiative that could one day make its services much cheaper and more efficient. In the near term though, the move represented a significant expense. Uber doubled researchers’ salaries and offered six-figure bonuses to the defectors. It also antagonized some drivers, whom Kalanick has gone to great lengths to court with promises of flexible, dependable work.

“We need to make sure that we are a part of the future,” says Kalanick of autonomous cars. “You can’t call yourself a technology company if you’re resisting technological progress.”

In addition to recruiting scientists from CMU, Uber recently entered a partnership with the University of Arizona, to further its research into optics technology for self-driving cars.

About the author

Pavithra Mohan is an assistant editor for Fast Company Digital. Her writing has previously been featured in Gizmodo and Popular Science magazine.

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