Where will these robotaxis be deployed?
Our primary focus right now is in the U.S. market. We also think there is application on a global basis for this and we are working with automakers that have a global footprint and have vehicles in every major market.
How many other automakers did you speak to you prior to making this deal?
We spoke with most of the auto industry. These conversations began about three years ago. Initially, we wanted to learn about our potential partners, understand what their motivations where, what their technology capabilities were, whether there was an alignment of interest between the teams and whether there was a good chemistry.
Why was chemistry important?
What we are trying to do is not easy and it requires hundreds of thousands of man hours of collaboration so we thought the chemistry of the working team would be an important factor in the ultimate success of the partnership.
Why did you pick Volvo?
In Volvo, we found complete alignment of interests. There is a good chemistry and camaraderie between the teams. From very early on Volvo CEO Hakan Samuelsson was very leaned in to the relationship, which was important. It has been a very good partnership since day one. Another important factor was that they had just launched their XC90, which in addition to being a great car was the first vehicle on Volvo's SPA architecture. This was important because it was the most modern electrical architecture and [the most modern] overall underlying vehicle architecture in the auto industry, which allowed us to integrate a lot of our systems within it in a more seamless fashion.
Was this Mercedes-Benz's deal to lose?
We also have a public partnership with Mercedes. In getting to know Daimler we found an organization that had tremendous capabilities in the development of autonomous technology, in addition to having great vehicles. We also found a company that wanted to find ways of participating more directly in mobility services. That is why we struck a deal with Daimler where when their autonomous technology is ready we will be opening up Uber's marketplace [to them] and they will be able to operate their vehicles on our system.
What did you and Volvo decide on 24,000 units?
I don't think of it as a 24,000-vehicle contract. The deal is structured in such a way that it creates flexibility that allows us to deal with the volume uncertainty. There is flexibility based on our market needs, the maturity of autonomous technology and the regulatory environment. Therefore, there's a range where we can purchase up to tens of thousands of vehicles. If we want to go above that, we could. If we want to go below that, we can. The important thing is that we are building a series production autonomous vehicle.
What does that entail?
We're not just taking the XC90 and making a few small tweaks to it. This is about making meaningful modifications, running it through all of the safety certification requirements so that when the autonomous technology is ready, we are able to operate tens of thousands of them and do this at scale as opposed to completing the technology development and then starting what would be a multiple-year series-production process. The vehicles will be ready at the same time the self-driving technology is ready. Both sides are making meaningful investments into that.
How much time will you need to get them to Level 5.
Our objective is to be able to operate them without anyone behind the wheel in select cities and environments. The more common definition of that is Level 4. That is the intended application of the vehicle. I don't know of anyone in the world who is saying they will be able to do Level 5, which is autonomous all the time everywhere in every use case. Most of the audience who reads this will associate what our goals are with Level 4, which is no safety driver, nobody behind the wheel, the car is able to operate in full autonomous mode in specific geographies and locations.
Could you provide an update on your test programs in the U.S.?
We are doing what we call test operations. This is driving in autonomous mode with a safety driver in the vehicle. Our primary areas of operation for that are Pittsburgh, [Pennsylvania], and the Phoenix area [in Arizona]. We have done well over 1,000,000 miles in autonomous mode. These cars pick people up in autonomous mode and drop them off. This is not Level 4 because there is a person behind the wheel who is ready to take over if the computer gets stumped.
Who stands to benefit most?
I think the world stands to benefit. You're going to see a dramatic reduction in casualties associated with driving. There are many fatalities due to cars that can be avoided if you have an intelligent robot that sees 360 degrees perfectly and never gets distracted. For our customers, we are excited about creating a world-class experience for them.