An Uber executive says driverless cars will hit the road 'sooner than you think'

Imagine pushing a button on your phone to order an Uber and watching a driverless vehicle pull up alongside your location. This future isn’t too far off.

Jeff Holden, chief product officer at Uber, took the stage at the Bloomberg Technology Conference in San Francisco on June 14th to talk about what’s next for the ride-sharing behemoth. Bottom line: Uber’s self-driving cars are coming “sooner than you think.”

Holden described driverless cars as a major priority for Uber, and recalled an earlier conversation with CEO Travis Kalanick about why that’s the case.

Holden remembers telling Kalanick, “Driverless is … basically a disruption wave in our rear-view mirror right now. That is not a situation where the technology is going to be evenly distributed. It’s going to be very proprietary. If somebody can build a driverless car, they’re going to have a massive economic advantage if they employ that in a fleet at scale.”

“Either we need to usher that in, or make a bet that somebody’s going to give it to us to plug into our fleet,” Holden said. “So we started building it.”

Holden says he canvassed the world for the top talent in robotics. The company made headlines in 2015 for poaching more than 40 people — largely software developers from Carnegie Mellon University — to shape its driverless car initiative.

In May, Uber’s test car, a hybrid Ford Fusion, hit the road in Pittsburgh to map routes and test its autonomous capabilities. The company has kept other details on lockdown, though Holden says we’ll see “activity on the roads from multiple players” by the end of 2016.

Holden, who arrived at Uber in 2014, says driverless cars are in alignment with the company’s mission to provide reliable transportation to everyone, everywhere.

“The way you do that, ultimately, is you have to have the lowest possible price and highest possible reliability,” Holden said. “Driverless enables us to do this kind of price point.”

In February, Kalanick assured the audience at TED 2016 that driverless cars wouldn’t replace Uber’s millions of drivers anytime soon. “The first part is it’s likely to take a lot longer than you think … than the hype or media might expect. Part two is that there will be a long transition. [Driverless] cars will work in some places and not in others,” he said.

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