Why Uber Is One Of The Most Innovative Companies Of 2017

By racing ahead to put its driverless cars and trucks on the road, the ride-sharing service is making autonomous driving a reality.

Why Uber Is One Of The Most Innovative Companies Of 2017
[Illustration: courtesy of Uber]

While experts debated whether self-driving cars would be commercially available in 5 or 10 years, Uber raced ahead and put vehicles on the road. Last August, it launched a program in Pittsburgh that allowed people to summon a self-driving car from their phones. At the same time, Uber acquired autonomous-trucking startup Otto. Together, these moves put the company, valued at $68 billion, at the forefront of transportation’s next wave. “The biggest asset and advantage [of our self-driving efforts] is being part of the larger Uber network,” says Raffi Krikorian, engineering director at the company’s Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh.

1. A Smart Pilot

Uber deliberately chose Pittsburgh for its first fleet because of the city’s erratic weather and winding roads. “If we can drive in Pittsburgh, we [know we] have the features we need to go and drive in other cities,” Krikorian says. The project has since expanded to Phoenix.

2. Automotive Allies

Last summer, Uber signed a $300 million deal with Volvo, which provides the company’s current fleet of human-assisted self-driving cars. The partners intend to debut a fully autonomous one by 2021.

3. Connected Roads

In October, Otto completed the first self-driving 18-wheeler delivery (of 50,000 cans of Budweiser). “[One day] our self-driving Ubers will [be able to] drive highways because the truck team is tackling it,” says Krikorian, “and the trucks will drive in cities because Ubers are [there].”

This article is part of our coverage of the World’s Most Innovative Companies of 2017.


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