DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Eric Meyhofer has a vision of the future where transportation is cleaner, safer and more affordable.
“The significance of the thing in front of us is emotional and exciting,” he said.
He’s the CEO of Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group, the division developing projects like its helicopter ride-sharing service and its self-driving cars. Those are two projects he expects to see operating in North Texas within the next five years.
“You’ll see a world of transportation that’s very different from what we know today,” he said.
Beginning next month, Uber will have two cars mapping downtown Dallas streets — the first step in introducing self-driving technology to the Metroplex.
At a town hall Tuesday evening, it had two cars, identical to the ones that will roam downtown, on display. With 360-degree cameras and sensors, the cars have self-driving capability but, for now, will have a driver behind the wheel and a second employee in the passenger seat keeping watch.
Uber will use the data it collects to build computer simulations of scenarios it encounters in Dallas. It will recreate them on its 54-acre test track in Pittsburgh to see how its cars respond.
Eventually, it plans to let the cars drive themselves in Dallas — first with employees supervising and later all on their own.
“It won’t be a sudden shock. It will just be the thing you become accustomed to,” Meyhofer said.
Meyhofer said customers using Uber’s app in Dallas could see a new option alongside its existing ride-share services in the next couple years
“You’ll get an alert saying, ‘Hey, you matched with a self-driving vehicle today. Would you like to do that?'” he said.
Questions from the audience of local residents and transportation leaders touched on the impact self-driving technology would have on local jobs and traffic congestion. The largest share, though, focused on safety.
In 2018, one of Uber’s self-driving cars struck and killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona.
“A tragic, deeply horrible moment for us as a company,” Meyhofer told the audience.
Since then, he said, the company has renewed its emphasis on increasing safety and building trust.
“If people don’t believe in the product, they’re not going to use the product. And, so this is all for naught,” he said.
The promise this technology holds, he believes, brings with it a great sense of responsibility.
“We have an opportunity to change the world,” Meyhofer said.