Higher Rock Education - Economics Blog

Wednesday, August 24, 2016
I don't know how I will respond when a driverless taxi pulls up to the curb to drive me to my destination - probably with a bit of excitement and fear. We aren't there yet, but Uber introduced something close to a driverless taxi in Pittsburgh on August 18th. This is the first time the public is able to hire a vehicle with anything close to an autonomous ride.

Uber has built a billion dollar company by creating a transportation network. Riders are able to "hail" rides using a mobile-app. Enterprising drivers have been able to enter the taxi market, but perhaps not for long, if Uber replaces its drivers with autonomous driving vehicles. It is ironic that one of Uber's objectives is to replace approximately 1.5 million drivers, when just two years ago its management touted providing employment to many unemployed. However, such a move is understandable since robots will almost certainly prove safer, more reliable, and less expensive in the long-run. The cost savings should be passed on to customers. Kalanick, Uber's CEO foresees fares low enough to make owning a car less economical than hiring a cab.

Uber has joined the race to provide autonomous transportation with Telsa, GM and Lyft, Google, and Ford. One major difference is that Uber does not plan to manufacture cars. Instead it will rely on companies like Volvo. Volvo has joined Uber in developing autonomous cars and they have invested $300 million in the partnership. Specially equipped Volvo XC90s will be used in Pittsburgh. These manufacturers have been testing autonomous vehicles, but Uber and Volvo are providing the most advanced car used in public transportation. (Google has created some more advanced technology but they have not made it available to the public.) Telsa has introduced semi-autonomous cars that require the driver to keep their hands on the steering wheel. The cars are able to remain within their lanes, change lanes, and adjust speeds.

If you call for an Uber ride and a "driver-less" vehicle picks you up, you may not know it immediately. (Actually you will because there will be a lot of equipment attached to the vehicle.) Each car will have an engineer in the driver's seat ready to take over at any point, and another Uber employee taking notes. The good news is your ride is free!

If you would like to learn more I suggest the following articles:

Uber Blog, May 19, 2016
Washington Post, August 18, 2016
Bloomburg, August 18, 2016
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 19, 2016

Image credit: istockphoto.com

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