Uber believes there are 4 reasons why self-driving cars will improve society:
- Reduce number of traffic accidents (currently 1.3 million a year are killed)
- Free up the 20% of space in cities currently used to park cars
- Cut down on congestion which will free up trillions of hours a year
In 2014 Uber set up the Advanced Technologies Center (ATC) in Pittsburg to further work on the creation and implementation of their self-driving car, and now in September 2016 they are on the road and available for pick up. Uber hired 40 researches and scientists from Carnage Mellon in order to make this happen. All of these cars have a “safety driver” that can override the car, if needed, to ensure the occupancy’s safety.
People have been critical of Uber, because many believe that the success of these self-driving cars will be detrimental to all of the Uber drivers that are currently employed. Many believe that Uber is going to put all of their own workers out of business. Anthony Levandowski (VP, self-driving technology, Uber) and Travis Kalanic (CEO and Co-Founder, Uber) have compared the self-driving technology to ATMs and bank tellers. When ATMs were created many claimed that bank tellers would be out of a job, but ATMs made branches so much less expensive to operate that banks ended up opening more branches and employing more people. Levandowski and Kalanic believe that since the self-driving cars will be on the road 24 hours a day, they will need a lot more maintenance than cars do today, so that will employ more people.
This comparison seems like a stretch to me, and I do not believe it will pan out that way. To be an Uber driver you do not need many qualifications other than a driver’s license and a car, but to provide maintenance on self-driving cars you would need to be educated on the technology, and some type of certification to work on these cars. I do believe the self-driving cars will open up new jobs, but it will not be an easy transition for the current drivers to find alternative employment immediately.
Uber recently joined forces with OTTO to work on self-driving trucks. Uber and OTTO are working on technology that allows big-rig trucks to drive on their own on highways. They believe this will cut down on the amount of accidents that take place. Big-rig trucks are used for 70% of things we buy, so this could really improve the efficiency of transportation for these products.
OTTO has created a technology that allows big-rig trucks to self-drive on highways, so the truck driver can rest. As soon as the truck exits the highway, the truck driver will take over. OTTO’s motivation to create this technology came from the high turnover of truck drivers. One in three truck drivers experience a serious accident throughout their career and trucking companies see over 90% of their truck drivers quit each year in order to look for a better opportunity.
Uber has also teamed up with Volvo to create a new base model that will be used moving forward. Volvo will manufacture the cars, and Uber will purchase the cars from Volvo and install the self-driving technology. I think this is a really great partnership because Volvo has a great reputation of producing very safe, high quality cars, which will help combat customer’s fears of self-driving technologies. People know and trust the Volvo brand, so this is beneficial for Uber moving forward. This is also beneficial for Volvo, because it insures that they will not be left behind in this transformation from traditional automobiles, to self-driving automobiles.
The following companies are currently working on creating self driving cars (and I am sure there are more out there that are working on it as well):
- Mercedes Benz
Most of these companies have come to the consensus that the year 2021 will be the year there are more self-driving cars on the road than manually driven cars. It is very clear with this much competition and money being thrown at self-driving technology that it is only a matter of time before it becomes the norm. Over the next 10 years I am interested to see if people do end up relying so heavily on Uber, and other companies like it, that the number of individually owned cars decreases. I am also excited to see if traffic analytics can be incorporated successfully into these cars to decrease traffic and dramatically decrease the amount of time people spend in cars. Finally, I am interested to see if these cars can reduce emissions signifcantly. We have had the technology to create electric cars for many years, but it has not taken off and become the norm like many people predicted 10+ years ago. These self-driving cars may finally be the answer to stopping the production of more traditional gas guzzling cars.