Business Technology

If Tesla can build 500,000 driverless cars by 2020, then Uber will buy them all

3 min read

13 July 2015

February 2015 saw Uber begin using talent from Carnegie Mellon University to develop driverless technology. Some six months later, the cab company is reportedly ready to invest in 500,000 autonomous cars in a bid to beat Google and Nissan.

Carnegie Mellon and its Robotics Institute has, according Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto, created opportunities for job growth and has turned the city’s economy to one based on technology and medicine

Among the university’s achievements is CHIMP, a four-limbed robot designed and built by the Tartan Rescue Team to compete in DARPA’s a two-day event that pitted 24 of the world’s most advanced robots against each other. It also developed a self-driving car at the end of 2013, which has demonstrated that it could negotiate congestion and highway traffic while changing lanes during a 33-mile drive from Cranberry to Pittsburgh International Airport.

The latter resulted in Uber setting up an Advanced Technologies Centre with the university, suggesting that it would focus on the development of long-term technologies that advance Uber’s mission of “bringing reliable transportation to everyone, everywhere”.

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Jeff Holden, Uber’s chief product officer, noted that Carnegie Mellon was his first choice after he asked himself who would be the best at bringing this kind of technology into the real world. 

According to CEO Travis Kalanick, the reason Uber could be expensive is because people don’t just pay for the car – they also pay for the person driving it. By removing the extra person, the cost of taking an Uber cab would become cheaper than owning a vehicle. 

Uber has now bought half a million driverless cars to further automise journeys, according to Tesla. It has set out plans to be among the first companies to bring autonomous vehicles to market, and has estimated delivering such cars in 2020.

Forbes claimed that Tesla’s Steve Juvertson was told by Kalanick that he would buy 50,000 of its initial production if the deadline was met.

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This move was suggested by Morgan Stanley auto industry analyst Adam Jonas, who in 2014 forecast that Uber would be manufacturing and owning an autonomous fleet of taxis in the space of 15 to 20 years. Computers, he wrote, drive better than people, and once a fleet of connected cars is available, it would “ultimately obviate the need for the vast majority of individual vehicle ownership.”

After reading of Uber’s plans, Jonas wrote that change is happening at a fast pace. “This type of announcement comes as much as five years earlier than we anticipated,” he told investors. “Things appear to be moving faster than any of us realise.”

Commentators have also suggested the development of such technology could mean the end of cab drivers by 2030.