Daimler to operate self-driving cars on Uber’s network

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Daimler and Uber have announced a partnership that will see the automaker introduce its own self-driving cars for use on Uber’s ride sharing service. The team-up is the second alliance Uber has struck with a car maker in pursuit of its goal of delivering self-driving service to users, the first of which was struck with Volvo and resulted in the XC90 self-driving test car that serves as Uber’s latest prototype.

This is different from Uber’s arrangement with Volvo, however, in that Daimler will own and operate its vehicles itself, while taking advantage of Uber’s technology and ride-sharing network services. Uber tells TechCrunch this is the first time it’s announcing its role as an “open self-driving vehicle platform,” wherein car makers can bring their own vehicles to the network to operate them. It’s a little like what Tesla intends to offer for drivers of its own cars, but targeted at automaker fleets and open to all car makers.

In a blog post announcing the news, Uber CEO and founder Travis Kalanick noted that his company realized early that the potential of self-driving cars in terms of safety is huge, but that it wouldn’t be able to do everything itself, which has resulted in its decision to seek out automaker partners like Daimler.

Kalanick points out a debate between himself and Daimler Chairman Dr. Dieter Zetsche that occurred during a Future of Transportation talk hosted by publisher Axel Springer in Berlin last year (embedded below) in his announcement, noting that while the two disagreed in some respects, he was “personally impressed” with the German carmaker.

This is a big announcement, and a significant change in strategy for Uber from its work with Volvo, which involved co-development of autonomous driving tech and vehicles operated by Uber itself. Effectively Uber is going to be offering a way for OEMs to provide ride sharing services without having to build or acquire their own network or service offering to do so, as companies including Ford, GM and others are currently attempting to do.

Even if many automakers continue to pursue the creation of their own ride-sharing services with autonomous vehicles, it’s likely Uber will remain an attractive third-party option for them to explore. It’s a smart move that emphasizes Uber’s expertise and advantages in demand prediction and routing, while downplaying the areas where it would be hard pressed to excel, including in automotive manufacturing.

Like many automakers, Daimler has stated that it aims to launch a self-driving car by 2020, so that’s the earliest we’re likely to see this partnership actually result in vehicles on the road, barring any earlier prototype testing.