DETROIT -- Uber drivers needn't worry about the company's heavy push into self-driving vehicles, a top executive says.
Sherif Marakby, vice president of global vehicle programs for the ride-hailing service, said the research on self-driving vehicles is partly aimed at providing a solution for instances when there aren't enough Uber drivers in a given area to meet customer demand.
During those times, Uber riders can face "surge pricing," fares that are as much as five times higher than normal. Some Uber customers have criticized those rates as a form of gouging.
"We don't see automated vehicles as taking over completely," Marakby said at the Automotive News World Congress last week. "The biggest problem in ride-sharing is supply -- having enough drivers in peak times. Automated vehicles will help smooth out surge times."
Marakby, 50, a 25-year Ford Motor Co. veteran, joined Uber in April 2015. His job is to oversee the integration of hardware and Uber-developed software into the company's self-driving vehicles.
To help speed up development of self-driving vehicles, Uber plans to open an advanced technologies center in suburban Detroit, so it can be closer to Tier 1 suppliers and automakers.
"The main focus [of the Advanced Technologies Group] is integration of autonomy into vehicles," Marakby said. Many engineers were coming to Detroit on day trips to visit with suppliers. It just felt right to have a place here where engineers could work with suppliers and original-equipment manufacturers."