Uber Technologies reported on Wednesday that it has finally launched its first autonomous vehicles on the road, and more are on the way.
The firm has set four cars into service equipped with its prototype self-driving pilot program as these roamed around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to give rides to select Uber customers in the area. In a blog post signed by CEO Travis Kalanick and Uber’s Vice President of autonomous technology, Anthony Levandowski, Uber stated it would invite their most loyal Pittsburgh clients to request an autonomous vehicle if one was available.
There were backup drivers on board, the ride-hailing giant assured. Each vehicle will have two employees sitting in front to monitor the car’s systems, and take over driving should the technology be placed in situations it isn’t capable to handle.
Mentioned in its blog post as well is its recent acquisition of Otto, a Silicon Valley start-up founded by Levandowski which has been working on driverless-truck technology. Uber noted that the acquisition had helped boost its self-driving engineering efforts.
In the automobile industry, it is a breakthrough for a company to release autonomous vehicles, thus, potential investors are thinking that this move may be a step closer to Uber’s long-awaited IPO (initial public offering).
(image from businessinsider.com)
Kalanick has a vision of a wholly automated ride-hailing service, and the launch of the first batch of self-driving cars is a step closer to realizing the CEO’s goal. It is definitely going to take several years before that vision will be fully accomplished, but launching the self-driving vehicles even under major restrictions serves as a milestone for Uber.
Not only is the even essential for Uber alone, but also for the industry. As Uber’s program develops, more people will be able to experience what it’s like to ride in a self-driving vehicle. Consequently, as more people experience the technology, interest and demand for it will possibly increase.
Is Uber’s IPO Finally Coming?
The self-driving pilot system is seemingly another sign that Uber may offer its stock to the public. Investors have keenly waited for an opportunity to buy shares of Uber on the open market; articles online have even dubbed that Uber may be the “hottest” IPO in either 2016 or 2017.
An IPO is the first time that the stock of a firm will be offered to the public. While typically the smaller, younger companies engage in this to gain capital to expand, large privately-owned companies may also shift from private to become publicly traded.
In recent months, there have been hints that the company is preparing for its long-awaited offering, especially after it dropped its China business to giant rival Didi Chuxing. Analysts have described Uber as saturated already in the US market, and that the company is on a path to slower growth.
However, with the unveiling of its self-driving cars, Uber may just pick up the hype again and not just stand as the low-hanging fruit of a tree. This may not guarantee a chance for an IPO soon though; as Kalanick has said in many statements before that it will take a “long time” before the Uber stock goes public.
(image from shminhe.com)
Nevertheless, the autonomous vehicle debut may be Kalanick’s way of showing potential investors that Uber’s self-driving research program isn’t just merely an idea—but something that can and will definitely start a key transformation in its business.
It may be just a small pilot program for now, but it isn’t difficult to envision the future that awaits Uber and its self-driving system.
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