Uber plans to buy 24,000 autonomous Volvo SUVs in self-driving push

‘It only becomes a commercial business when you can remove the vehicle operator from the equation,’ says ride-hailing firm battling Lyft and Waymo

Uber is planning to buy up to 24,000 self-driving cars from Volvo, the company has announced, moving from its current model of ride-sharing using freelance drivers to owning a fleet of autonomous cars.

Following the three-year self-driving partnership with Volvo, the non-binding framework could give Uber a boost in its ambitions to perfect self-driving systems to replace human drivers, following setbacks and lawsuits over trade secrets and talent.

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Is a car maker about to save the planet? | Zoe Williams

Volvo’s move to electric demonstrates the role ethical business can play in shaping our society for the better

• Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist

“I think a lot about electric cars,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk famously said at a party at the very end of the 80s. “Do you think a lot about electric cars?” The problem with thinking a lot about electric cars is that certain things become impossible to unthink: powering a car with fossil fuels, meeting 21st-century challenges with 19th-century answers, become more than irresponsible. It becomes ridiculous.

You’ll never know when the tipping point is – it’s possibly as little as five minutes – but think enough about electric cars, especially if you’re a car manufacturer, and wham … you’re Volvo. They were rolling along perfectly happily until they thought too hard: about their business model and benefit to society; about climate change and their future customers; and so they made the decision that all their cars would be fully electric, or at least hybrid, by 2019. Not one car solely powered by internal combustion engine will come off a Volvo production line by 2020.

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Volvo signals carmakers’ growing confidence in an electric future

Take-up of electric and hybrid cars has disappointed so far but Swedish firm’s chief executive says industry is changing fast

Volvo’s decision to exclusively build electrified or hybrid cars is the beginning of the end of the company’s relationship with fossil fuels, according to one motoring organisation.

One Swedish carmaker starting down the road to a zero emissions future will not solve global warming alone. But the whole automotive industry following suit would begin to make a serious difference in reducing oil demand and emissions.

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All Volvo cars to be electric or hybrid from 2019

Landmark move as first big manufacturer says it will stop making vehicles solely powered by internal combustion engine

All cars sold by Volvo from 2019 onwards will be battery-powered, in what the company called a “historic end” to building models that only have an internal combustion engine.

Between 2019 and 2021, the firm will launch five 100% electric car models, and ensure the rest of its conventional petrol and diesel range offers a hybrid engine of some form. It is the first major manufacturer to make such a bold move.

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The Guardian view on self-driving cars: apply the brakes | Editorial

The big questions are less technological than societal. The answers will need consensus and debate rather than just more engineering improvements

The decision by authorities in California to halt ride-hailing company Uber from operating a fleet of self-driving cars on the streets of San Francisco is a welcome move. Technology must not race ahead of the society in which it was created. It did not help that Uber’s cars were filmed jumping red lights. It’s not just that the values embedded in the car’s computer system appear skewed. Regulators said Uber did not have the right permits to test “autonomous vehicles”. But this is just the beginning. Carmaker Ford is planning to launch driverless models in 2021. Volvo claims by that year no one will die in its smart cars. A noted hacker is giving away software to convert stupid cars into intelligent ones. Google is the pioneer, posting a video of a blind man in 2011 being driven by an onboard computer to collect his dry cleaning. Its new subsidiary Waymo will focus solely on self-driving cars.

What is happening is the culmination of a number of powerful trends. One is that computers can be coded so that they are not just good at following rules, but smart enough to recognise patterns. Processing power means computers can ingest and simultaneously make quick decisions about a large volume of fast-changing information dealing with traffic, route and people around a car. The second is a more vexed question, raised half a century ago by philosophers: the trolley problem. This asked how to make a decision when all the proffered options are bad. Does a driverless car hit the wayward cyclist, or swerve and crash into a pedestrian instead? What would the calculation be if the cyclist was a young, poor child and the person on foot a billionaire banker who brought down a great City name? Would a computer programmed with social democratic leanings give a different answer to one with Whiggish inclinations?

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First self-driving cars will be unmarked so that other drivers don’t try to bully them

Volvo fears that other road users could drive erratically in order to take advantage

The first self-driving cars to be operated by ordinary British drivers will be left deliberately unmarked so that other drivers will not be tempted to “take them on”, a senior car industry executive has revealed.

One of the biggest fears of an ambitious project to lease the first autonomous vehicles to everyday motorists is that other road users might slam on their brakes or drive erratically in order to force the driverless cars into submission, he said.

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